Archive for the ‘Viz Signature’ Category

Ristorante Paradiso

July 10, 2011


My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I didn’t get on all that well with this one. It wasn’t terrible, but I’m not quite sure how it’s got so much critical acclaim.

The story setup intrigued me: a girl is abandoned by her mother as a child because her mother falls in love with a man that doesn’t want to date women with children.  Once she’s grown into a young woman, the girl decides to go and confront her mother (and the man that she is still with), with the truth.  Throw in the backdrop of an Italian restaurant staffed incongruously with only older bespectacled men, and you’ve at least got a good hook for people like me who are after something a bit off-the-wall in their comics entertainment.

The main problem I had with the comic though was the writing.  Things just seemed to happen because that’s what the author wanted to write, rather than the characters seemingly causing things to happen because of who they were.  One example: at the start, the daughter thinks to herself that she doesn’t understand the appeal of the all-older-bespectacled-male waiting staff at the restaurant, but the very next time she sees one of the staff she immediately starts to think how sexy he is.  The author could have written it as if the daughter’s mind changed over time, or even that there was something specific about the man that suddenly caught her attention, but in fact she just seemed to contradict herself entirely in the space of just a couple of pages at the start of the book.

There also really isn’t much of an emotional impact anywhere in the book around the daughter and the mother’s relationship, which is a missed trick in my opinion, given the plot.

The artwork is probably going to be marmite to a lot of people: you’d love it or hate it. Its drawn with nib pens in quite a scratchy, quick style.  Personally there are moments where I think the artwork is quite beautifully balanced, but most of the time its quite ugly to me.  It’s reminiscent of the kind of pen illustrations you might get in a magazine about wine (which is actually pretty fitting, considering the Italian restaurant backdrop), but I’m not really a fan of that style of illustration unfortunately.

All of the supposedly sexy male staff at the restaurant were drawn looking rather similar, so at points they were very hard to tell apart from each other.  The choice to give everyone elongated, spindly bodies and hands was probably 100% conscious on the part of the creator, but again, I’m just not a fan of that style of art (it screams ‘I’m out of proportion!’ to me).

So I would say flip through a few pages of this book if you can before buying and take a look at the art – if you love the art then you’ll probably forgive the story a bit.  But if you’re a fan of enigmatic tall older men with glasses, you should probably just go straight out and buy this anyway ;)

Bonus side note: although I was initially put off Ono’s work by reading this book, recently I’ve had the chance to watch the anime and read a couple of volumes of another of her series, ‘House of Five Leaves’, which is newer.  I wouldn’t say Five Leaves is my favourite comic ever, but I very much enjoyed the volumes I borrowed and am considering collecting the series for myself too, so if you felt the same as me about Ristorante Paradiso perhaps don’t close yourself off to everything Ono just yet.  If I do end up collecting it, then I’m sure I’ll write more about Five Leaves in the future :)


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

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.