Friday, July 31, 2009

Emma, vol. 6

The story: Starting off with a chapter from a Victorian romance novel William's younger sister, Vivi, is reading, it sets the tragic tone for this volume. When William visits the family of his fiance, Eleanor, it sets the wheels in motion for a tragic turn in the story. When Emma receives an urgent telegram supposedly from William, a horrible plan concocted by Eleanor's parents goes into motion. Just what will happen to Emma and will she ever see William again?

Reaction: Not only is the cover of this volume indicative of the theme, there's a reason the bulk of the chapters' names are "The Worst State of Affairs." Things go from bad to worse in this volume and I wonder how Kaoru Mori plans to resolve it all in the next volume (while Emma is a total of nine volumes thus far, the story of William and Emma is resolved by the seventh volume). Thankfully, all of the tension in this volume was broken up by some lighter moments, most of them including William's siblings and Emma's co-workers (not together, of course). I particularly like Colin, William's youngest brother -- he vacillates between quiet patience, a real surprise for someone his age, and mild apprehension, which is made apparent on his small face. Altogether, though, these humorous touches distract one just long enough before having to return to the darker story that is brewing here.

Deep thoughts: It is fascinating to watch the class differences under the lens of Emma. While the Jones family is considered upper class, they seek to align themselves with the nobility through William's engagement to Eleanor, as Eleanor's father is a viscount. And, despite the Joneses success, they are still looked down upon by those above them. It almost seems like William's father is constantly clawing his way upwards, doing his best to bring his family more success or riches; it's unclear what his ultimate goal is. Then, there's the working class, among them Emma, which is, in turn, looked down upon by those above them. For all of the difficulty William and Emma have in regards to acceptance of their relationship, it's so hard to understand in our modern era.

Artwork: The interiors that Kaoru Mori draws are especially amazing in this volume -- from the Campbell residence to William's home to Emma's workplace, each has a beautiful layer of detail from the wainscoting in the parlors to a velvet settee. And while all of these families are well off in their own ways, there are still easy-to-spot details that differentiate their class status. It simply shows Mori's attention to these fine points and the level of historical accuracy to which she's adhered. Again, we see some female nudity, but it is tastefully done. Lastly, I really enjoyed the black backdrop to the panels depicting a late-night, outdoor scene with Emma.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This title has quickly grown on me and, with the cliffhanger we're left on with this volume, I'm wondering how Mori will wrap up this troubled romance. Emma is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bride of the Water God, vol. 1

The story: Soah's poor village is suffering from a devastating drought and are seeking to appease the water god Habaek by giving him a bride of unequaled beauty. Soah, the town's most alluring maiden, is chosen to be drowned in the river as an offering to him. While Soah expects to die, she's instead saved. Upon her arrival in Habaek's dominion, Suguk, she's thrown into the mystical world of the gods and finds that her husband is only a child. As she learns to navigate her new home, what kind of wife will she be and how will she survive the experience?

Reaction: This tale reminds me so much of the Greek and Roman mythology stories I loved as a young girl. The gods here are just as fickle and mysterious as they were then, if not unfamiliar because of their Korean origins. There's intrigue here and I can't help but follow along on the path that Mi-Kyung Yun has carved. However, much like my experience with Goong, I found myself challenged in remembering Korean honorifics and understanding the intricacies of Soah's journey. While it wasn't particularly difficult to understand, there was some page flipping from time to time.

Deep thoughts: Human sacrifice has been a large part of many ancient cultures throughout time, from the early Romans to the Aztecs. What strikes me as unusual in this story is the lack of witnesses. Soah is simply sent down the river in a boat and it is assumed that she will die in sacrifice to Habaek. In historical accounts, ritual sacrifice was carried out oftentimes in front of a large crowd, much like a congregation witnesses a Christian church service. Of course, without anyone watching, Soah is able to survive and is taken to the land of Suguk.

Artwork: To call the artwork simply lush does it an extreme disservice. It's exquisite to behold, gorgeous in detail and possesses an ethereal quality I've not seen in other graphic novels. The opening color pages are vibrant and made me wish that more of this manhwa was published in color. Habaek's palace is grandiose and opulent, with an unbelievable gravity-defying quality and mysterious aura about it. All of the various gods, goddesses and Soah are long-limbed, seemingly graceful and extremely attractive. Their distinct qualities and elaborate costumes only add to their design. Put simply, Yun's artwork is amazing, and I do not say that lightly.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I can't help but be drawn into the enigmatic and amazingly illustrated world of Suguk. From the characters to the setting to the hints of tragic romance, I'm drawn to a variety of appealing aspects in this fantastic tale. Bride of the Water God is available in the U.S. from Dark Horse.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swan, vol. 3

The story: Masumi makes her way to London, stopping in Moscow to see her friends, Sayoko and Kusakabe, perform in a Bolshoi Ballet production. While performing in Sleeping Beauty, Sayoko is severly injured -- enough to end her career as a ballerina. While everyone is understandably devastated, Japan has to save face and so it is suggested that Masumi take her place in an audition against the Russian prodigy, Larissa Maximova. Will Masumi have what it takes to audition and will she win against Russia's best?

Reaction: Watching Sayoko's injury happen and the following aftermath are heartbreaking, since it takes away the one thing she loves. It's additionally sad because she experienced only one day of international fame. What's worse is watching Masumi's reaction to her sempai's injuries. But, once Masumi breaks through her emotional turmoil and focuses on what her competition with Maximova truly means -- recognition of Japanese ballet on the international stage -- it's breathtaking. Masumi is growing and I'm really beginning to enjoy it.

Deep thoughts: At the end of Masumi's competition against Maximova, a young upstart comes into the room, with a commanding presence. Sydney Ecklund believes she should have the opportunity Masumi did and is very pushy about competing for an audition spot. It was off-putting to watch, but it demonstrated something that you don't see very often in manga -- reckless insistence and obvious contrariness. In Japanese culture, as well as other Asian cultures, confrontation is best avoided, so it was surprising to see this level of conflict. It was a quick and simple way of showing the difference in Western and Eastern cultures when it comes to deference to authority figures, and, on a larger scale, shows the larger challenges the Japanese dancers must face in order to be recognized by their Western peers.

Artwork: At times, the pages seem busy with the amount of panelwork and their non-traditional placement. But, it keeps the lively pace of this story chugging along. There are a lot of extremely emotional moments in this volume, but Ariyoshi Kyoko illustrates them well, finding a way to demonstrate the melodramatic inner turmoil of Masumi and Sayoko. Again, the dancing is her strong suit and Kyoko has a deft hand at portraying movement in a sequential form. Lastly, I finally realized that there's a minimal use of screentone. I'm not sure if this is a convention of the 1970s, or if Kyoko simply used it as little as possible. But, it helps set a darker tone for this series, especially at this particular moment.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This series is growing on me, volume by volume. Considering the challenges Masumi faces, she's handling them as best she can and doing fairly well at it. While I couldn't have cared less about her success, I now find myself obsessed with finding out her future in ballet. Since there are a total of 21 volume of Swan, I'm fairly certain I'll be able to find out. Swan is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Comic-Con: Women in Manga

On Saturday, I attended this female-oriented panel at San Diego Comic-Con International, moderated by Eva Volin, chair, Great Graphic Novels for Teens. The panel included a wide variety of women from across the manga scene, from publishers and artists to reporters and librarians. While this is a nearly blow-by-blow account, there are some minor omissions, especially since I was taking notes by hand.

The panel included Leyla Aker, an editor with Viz; Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, an editor with Tokyopop; Deb Aoki, manga editor for; Becky Cloonan, artist and creator of Tokyopop's East Coast Rising; Robin Brenner, librarian, and JuYuon Lee, an editor at Yen Press. The room, albeit small, was filled to capacity with young girls, women and men of all ages. Of course, everyone was interested in hearing about what the comprised group of experts thought about the role of women in the manga publishing industry.

I think much of what was said during this panel can be summed up in a quote that Volin used to kick off the panel, "In manga, women sit in the 'teacup' next to the 'kettle' of men."

The role of women in publishing

Volin started by asking Aker about her transition from traditional publishing to her role at Viz, where she oversees the seinen imprint IKKI. For Aker, her biggest frustration was that while women often served in editorial roles, the decision-makers continued to be men, noting that the disparity wasn't nearly as bad as it is in Tokyo publishing houses, where there are still limited opportunities for women. In referencing the disparity in the U.S., Aker said, "You will be frustrated by it if you let it."

Next up was Diaz-Przybyl, who described her experience at Tokyopop. When she joined the staff a few years ago, she was the first Japanese speaker in editorial, but, at the same time, half of the editorial department was comprised of women.

Lee, who started working in publishing in her native South Korea, mentioned that the disparity was less of an issue there because of the smaller size of publishing houses. In her experience, editorial departments are staffed primarily by women. But, she noted that the major difference between the U.S. and Korean markets was the cultural connotations used in the States. While everything is simply known as "comics" in Korea, there are several different terms used here, including manga, manhwa, graphic novels and comics.

Finding comics for women

Volin then asked Cloonan how she discovered manga. Cloonan started reading traditional superhero comics and, growing up, thought that working in comics was an unattainable job. However, she discovered Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma 1/2 in floppy format at her local comic book store and that changed her life, especially since it was written by a woman.

From here the conversation changed with Aoki asking, "Who is marketing well to older teens and women?"

As evidenced by the dearth of good josei titles in the "Best and Worst Manga" panel on Thursday, Aoki pointed out that most of the titles aimed at an older female demographic are, for the most part, trashy, Harlequin-style romances. From what she's seen, older teens are reading seinen, but there's still a growing market.

And while the focus of the conversation was on sales, Brenner noted that for her, a librarian, the issue was less about sales, but reader interest.

"I don't care how much they sell, but how much do they circulate?" Brenner said. "More and more women are coming up to me - they are diverse readers and they're vocal; men pick up books and leave, while women pick up books and talk to you."

While the anecdotal information provided by the panelists showed that women are looking for "smart" manga, the question still remained: is the market growing to accommodate an older, more mature, female audience?

The U.S. market

According to Aker, the U.S. manga market can sustain older readers, but it's still developing. She noted a recent study comparing subscribers of Shonen Jump and the now-defunct Shojo Beat. While a whopping 40 percent of Shonen Jump's subscribers are female, only 5 percent of Shojo Beat's subscribers were male.

"Girls will read shonen, but boys won't read shojo," Aker said. As other panelists noted, this is a trend seen across the publishing industry and isn't confined only to manga.

Once again, the panelists looked at the gender composition of the manga industry, specifically artists. Aker and Diaz-Pryzbyl noted that there were mangaka who specifically chose to remain gender ambiguous with their pen names and not allow their likenesses to be seen. By doing so, the artists insured that their gender wouldn't work to their disadvantage, but it certainly shows the gender discrimination still afoot in male-dominated Japan.

Will women read manga?

The conversation turned to the success of josei titles, with Diaz-Przybyl noting that there was an inherent need for cultural understanding mature titles. Diaz-Przybyl mentioned that in Tramps Like Us the main character's constant reference to her boyfriend as her sempai despite the fact they were in a serious relationship. Basically, there is a barrier of cultural understanding inherent in titles for older readers.

But, perhaps Aker's reference to some marketing research conducted on Viz's behalf truly told the story. Evidently, a focus group showed that "women will pick up manga if 'the pictures are taken out.'" So, it wasn't the content itself, but possibly the presentation of the story in a graphic novel format that turns women off.

Cloonan chimed in with an anecdote of her own, noting that she has bought manga for her mother, a voracious reader. But, her mother has never understood the appeal of manga, nor read any of the books she's been given.

Not 'real' books

The conversation then turned to a well-worn topic -- that comics are not considered "real" books. Both Volin and Brenner mentioned the flak they receive from fellow librarians who don't consider manga literature. There were also mentions of "reading manga in public," which I've done myself as mentioned in my "Goodbye, Shojo Beat" post. By reading in public, the panelists hoped to dispel some of the stereotypes surrounding graphic novels as a genre.

As time was running out, the conversation began to wind down, with Lee mentioning that there simply aren't enough titles for older women readers, as they're looking for content they can empathize and connect with. But, there was hope in the younger girls market eventually maturing into readers who are still determined to enjoy their manga.

Geeking out

In possibly the funniest moment during the entire panel, Aoki mentioned her determination to read manga. "I've been reading manga since I was 8," Aoki said, "I would sit there with my Japanese-English dictionary and write in the margins."

To which Aker replied with a sigh, "Oh, Deb!" which was met by a laugh from the audience. Volin also chimed in with a well-timed narrator's remark, "Deb just raised the bar of geekdom."

At this point, the panel took questions from the audience regarding a variety of topics and I specifically asked what the implications of the Shojo Beat's shut down had on the larger women's manga market.

The tough questions

Aker took the question in stride, noting that when the magazine shut down, her colleagues and she knew that this question would inevitably arise. For the most part, Aker said that the magazine was unsustainable in the current economy, noting the recent demise of other magazines.

She also took the time to once again highlight the gender disparity in readership between Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump. Unfortunately, time had run out by the time Aker finished answering my question, so the room had to empty in order to accommodate the next panel.

My reflections and thoughts

Much of what the panelists said was all too true -- that women simply aren't reading comics in the numbers that men are right now, so, of course, the market is catering to that. But, there's hope in the young girls and women who are dedicated to reading manga.

Perhaps Shojo Beat was simply ahead of its time, but for now, the market is tightening because of the recession. However, I think there is light at the end of the tunnel, especially with some of the licenses discussed and announced at San Diego Comic-Con International.

Specifically, Viz's license of Ooku, by Fumi Yoshinaga of Antique Bakery fame, and Yen Press's announcement of Bunny Drop, both josei titles, give me hope that publishers aren't dismissing the market entirely and are simply in a 'wait and see' mode. If nothing else, this panel was a refreshing, female-dominated look at how women are affecting -- and being affected by -- the U.S. manga industry.

Emma, vol. 5

The story: The circumstances behind William's parents first meeting and how they came to be married are revealed in this fifth volume, and all is explained behind why William's mother lives separately from the Jones family. While Emma and William begin corresponding, it seems that everyone is against their pairing, and are constantly encouraging them to cut off their relationship with one another. Meanwhile, Eleanor is wondering what happened to her fiancé and her parents are beginning to wonder, too.

Reaction: I was a little surprised to see the circumstances under which the Joneses had built their relationship and, later, their family. In many ways, it was sad, especially seeing the attachment between the younger Martha, a servant, and her mistress, Mrs. Jones. I also felt a little bad for Hans, one of the German servants in the Meredith household, who seems to have developed an unrequited crush of some sort on Emma.

Deep thoughts: During the flashback to the Joneses early relationship, it seemed that Mrs. Jones suffered from post-partum depression following the birth of her youngest child, Colin. She has a hard time concentrating, cries for no reason and suffers from other matters related to her "constitution." Of course, there's no definitive diagnosis, as the term wasn't coined until recently. Despite how hard she tries, it seems that she can't seem to get healthier. Because of this, Mr. Jones suggests "climatotherapy," the permanent or temporary relocation of a person to a more favorable climate. This treatment was used for a variety of ailments, including tuberculosis and asthma.

Artwork: I enjoyed the artwork in the flashbacks between the Joneses. Since it was a bit earlier in the Industrial Revolution, there are fewer modern technologies, such as the telephone. The character design is also beginning to grow on me a bit more, especially with the cast of characters in the Meredith household. I especially have a soft spot for the tall, dark and handsome Hans. While he seems to simply quietly brood, his interest in Emma is intriguing.

The verdict: Highly recommended. Now that there seems to be some kind of path that Emma and William are traveling along, I'm wondering if it will all work out or not. The romance between the two of them is not only beautiful in content, but also in design. Here's to hoping that everything works out between the unlikely pair. Emma is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Land of the Blindfolded, vol. 6

The story: This volume is dedicated to Masahiro and some serious character growth on his part. First, his brother shows up at school for a basketball game and then the festival. Later, Namiki flashes back to his lonely childhood when he spends some time at Kanade's loving home. When he later visits his family, Masahiro is able to let go of some of his past. In the bonus chapter at the end, Masahiro finally names his cute puppy.

Reaction: I really liked the focus on Masahiro here, especially since it's so easy to simply dismiss him as Arou's rival. At the beginning of the series, he came off as cynical at best, but this volume shows just how much Kanade has changed him for the better. Not only is Masahiro able to let go of his past, but he's able to smile and share warm moments with others. I also liked that the friendship between Masahiro and the school council president has grown. They both have a habit of putting up a tough front when, in actuality, they're simply afraid to show weakness.

Deep thoughts: During the school festival, the joy and excitement of the students causes the spirits that haunt the school to come out and play. One of the spirits is a panda bear, which I found particularly strange. But, it reminded me of a Mexican holiday, known as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. For two days in Mexico, Nov. 1 and 2, the living return to cemeteries to clean grave sites and visit with their family members that have passed. Just as the spirits in this volume shared a cup of sake with one another, on Dia de los Muertos, Mexicans will bring tequila or other favorite drinks and foods of the dead. In many ways, Japanese and Mexican culture have a healthy respect for the dead.

Artwork: I still love the understated artwork of Sakura Tsukuba. In shojo manga, it's very easy to use and abuse screentone at will. But, Tsukuba gives it an emotional purpose, using good judgment by sparingly employing it. Of course, I really loved this volume just because of the extra scenes with Masahiro's super cute puppy!

The verdict: Highly recommended. This volume continues to hold my attention, especially with its arc focused on Masahiro. While Arou and Kanade have obviously found happiness in one another, will Masahiro be content enough to stand on the side, or will he seek someone to share his happiness with? Land of the Blindfolded is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Comic-Con: Best and Worst Manga of 2008-09

This is the lone manga-oriented panel I attended on Thursday, the first official day of San Diego Comic-Con International. Moderated by Gia Mannry with Anime Vice and featuring panelists Kai-Ming Cha of Publisher's Weekly, Deb Aoki of, Vertical's Director of Marketing Ed Chavez, Jason Thompson of Manga: The Complete Guide and Eva Volin, chair, Great Graphic Novels for Teens, the group got off to a quick start as the panel was held up a few minutes by the prior one. The room was full and without much fanfare or introduction, the panel got started on its "picks and pans" of the past year.

Best Children's Manga: The group firsted started off by listing best manga by age group/genre. For the children's category, they featured Gon, Cowa!, Happy Happy Clover and Dinosaur Hour. The best of children's manga was Fairy Idol Kanon, a "more realistic look" of what it takes to become a singing idol, according to Thompson. Volin was quick to note that even the "burliest of burly guys" liked this book and "reconnected with their inner 12-year-old girl." Volin also took a moment to commend Udon's children's line as truly age friendly for kids, whereas the Viz Kids line was noted as being for middle schoolers on up.

Best Shojo Manga: Up next for consideration was shojo, or girl's manga. Included as nominations from the group were Black Bird, The Name of the Flower, Song of the Hanging Sky and Nightschool. I found it interesting that there were two Twilight references here, specifically someone stating (Aoki, I think) mentioning that Black Bird is "Twilight, but with yokai" and someone else mentioning that Nightschool had all the monsters of Twilight, but without the romance. But, the best were both expected and unexpected titles, specifically Two Flowers for the Dragon, Otomen, Gakuen Alice and High School Debut.

Cha was the biggest cheerleader for High School Debut, mentioning that the best part of this story is the unexpected relationship between a girl who's a jock and her "hot" boyfriend. While Aoki was describing Gakuen Alice, she mentioned that the main character's "alice," or skill, was negating other's alices. To which my husband replied, "So, just like in X-Men?" To which I nodded, as it's a pretty apt comparison considering one of the characters in the third film in the franchise. There was also some laughter over Thompson's description of Two Flowers for the Dragon, in which he mistakenly made it sound like a shonen-ai title. Of course, he quickly corrected himself, saying "it's not 'two flowers and a dragon' it's Two Flowers FOR the Dragon."

Best Shonen Manga: They then moved on to shonen titles and included the following in their first slide of best titles: Black Jack, Cirque du Freak and Dororo. Barely any explanation was made for the two Vertical titles, Black Jack and Dororo, but they did take some time to explain Cirque d Freak, as a vampire tale with "true horror." Aoki did her best to describe the story without giving major spoilers, noting that it starts as a friendship between two boys interested in scary things who then go to a macabre circus of sorts. She stopped right after mentioning how the two boys realized that there was an actual vampire and how one of them approaches the vampire to be turned. I'm not sure how much that may have interested the audience, but the panel had to move on as they were about halfway through their allotted time.

The best was a unanimous one with Black Lagoon. There was some hemming and hawing between Thompson and Chavez regarding the true shonen appeal of Black Lagoon, as it's in a magazine for 18+ readers, despite it being an imprint of Shonen Sunday. Regardless, they made it sound interesting by using a variety of adjectives that I had no time to record. Sigh.

Best Josei Manga: Sadly, the next category, josei, was unsurprisingly thin with nominations and best suggestions. Thompson described Minima! as a title inspired by Toy Story, where a shy girl gets encouragement of sorts from a stuffed animal. He did note that it wasn't as josei as other titles, but as Aoki said, "there were slim pickings." Nightmare Inspector was the other nominated book and the panel likened it akin to episodic josei titles Petshop of Horrors and xxxHolic. In Nightmare Inspector the main character helps people get rid of their nightmares by eating them, "and there are some FREAKY dreams," noted one of the panelists.

The two best josei manga were probably not surprises because there were so few good titles this year: Honey and Clover and Sand Chronicles. Cha spoke about Sand Chronicles, as she seemed to be on a self-described "high school romance" kick, noting that the book is about the realities of high school romance, but without all the dramatic complications of other titles like Peach Girl. Volin also noted that Honey and Clover was pretty much about falling in and out of love with "a lot of unrequited love."

Best Seinen Manga: As the panel began running low on time, I missed one of the nominated seinen titles, but those I did catch included: Disappearance Diary, Oishinbo and Red Colored Elegy, which is nominated for a Harvey Award. But their best list was the longest of any of the other categories, most likely because of the plethora of titles being released by various publishers. The best seinen titles were Real, Solanin, Pluto, 20th Century Boys and Astral Project. Considerable time was spent on the two Naoki Urasawa stories, Pluto and 20th Century Boys, with Cha leading an audience vote via applause for which was the best, noting that there was a lot of Internet discussion on which of the two was better. The audience seemed to like 20th Century Boys much more, seemingly to Cha's chagrin.

Best Adult Manga: Next up was best adult works. This time, Mandry blitzed through this category, simply so the worst manga could be viewed and discussed before they got kicked out of the room. Of what I could catch, the list included mostly yaoi books, including Future Lovers, Mr. Flower Bride and Please Miss Yuri, a hentai book. The best adult book was Red Blinds the Foolish, which is a yaoi book with bullfighting as the background story. Volin mentioned it required focus and deep thought and wasn't a "book you read with one hand," which elicited a reaction from Mandry, as she noted that they were supposed to be careful of using adult content in their panel discussion. Unfortunately, there were immature, homophobic male audience members who didn't particularly like the discussion surrounding this title, which was annoying to this audience member, although I'm not a yaoi fan.

Worst Manga: As time was quickly running out, the panel moved on to the worst manga of the past year, including In Odd We Trust, an adapatation of the Dean Koontz novel by Queenie Chan, Ral Grad, Tantric Stripfighter Trina, Jack Frost and King of the Lamp. Cha criticized Tantric Stripfighter Trina, noting the all-too-predictable fan service and ridiculous costume design of "wrapped boobs" that become unwrapped and then work to "hypnotize the enemy." The panel also mentioned Rosario + Vampire, which was not in the presentation, as one of the worst this year.

But, according to the panel, the worst manga was Magic Touch, released this year by Viz. Cha said that it was basically a typical high school romance wrapped up in the main lead's interest in massage therapy.

Worst Ongoing Series: Again, the panel went quickly and I may have missed a title or two from here on out. But, Cha and Aoki had strong words for Sundome, noting its sadistic and masochistic tendencies masquerading as "love," which they both stated as not understanding. Perhaps telling, neither Thompson nor Chavez said anything about the title. Other titles on the worst series list included Alice on Deadlines and Bobobo-bo Bo-bo, which Aoki mentioned she didn't like because she never knew how many "bos" were in the title.

Best Ongoing Series and others: Four properties were nominated as best ongoing series, one of which I missed. They included NANA, Berserk and Emma. With the allotted time ending, the panel had only moments to show the rest of the slides, which included best international manga, including Goong, Nightschool, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, Yokaiden and Deja Vu, a Korean work; and most anticipated licenses, including Kimi ni Todoke, I'll Give it My All...Tomorrow, Ooku and another titles (perhaps two) that I wasn't quick enough to write down. Lastly, the panel relayed their most wanted licences, which included Hetalia Axis Powers, Hataraki Man, Saint Young Men and Otoyome Gatari.

My take: I can't say that I disagree with many of the best books, and many of the books that they nominated that I've yet to read have already been on my to-read list for some time. Additionally, many of their worst nominations are books that I'm now glad I never read, although I do feel mostly ambivalent about Jack Frost, which I've read in Yen Plus. Also, it was sad to see just how few josei books came out this past year, especially with the lapse of great books like Suppli. I was surprised to see that Sand Chronicles was considered a josei title, as I've only ever read it in the now-defunct Shojo Beat. There were some books that I was surprised to see didn't merit a spot on the list anywhere, from Fullmetal Alchemist and Children of the Sea to With the Light and Skip Beat!. Although I'm not sure how I would rate these titles head to head with others, I do believe they were good enough to be mentioned somewhere along the way during this one-hour panel.

Nonetheless, this panel was a great start to the four days of manga panels during San Diego Comic-Con International, and combined great content with well-read expert panelists. While the audience seemed immature at times, I believe the panel itself was well received, if not always in agreeance with those listening.

Be sure to visit i ♥ manga later this week for more manga-related reports from San Diego Comic-Con International 2009.

Goong, vol. 2

The story: This volume starts off with the elaborate wedding of Shin and Chae-Kyung, with all its ceremonies and rituals. But, once they get through that, there's their first night together and plenty of other firsts for the couple. When they pay an extended visit to Chae-Kyung's family, Chae-Kyung is horrified to find herself physically attracted to her husband. Meanwhile, Shin shows moments of caring. It's just too bad that they're only moments, and not long-lasting change.

Reaction: It's somewhat painful to watch the interaction between the new royal couple. It's like Shin's just learning how to be a "real" person and Chae-Kyung's forced into teaching him. It's a lot like teaching an old dog new tricks -- Shin's stubborn and nearly impossible to educate on the particulars of caring for another. On the other hand, I was still suspicious of the relationship Yul is trying to build with Chae-Kyung. Overall, this is another hard volume to read, but there are small, bright moments, too. Oh, and I can't possibly ignore the hilarity of Chae-Kyung discovering her lust for her new husband!

Deep thoughts: In this volume, the eunuch Kong is introduced. Evidently, he's the last of his kind from the Chosun Dynasty. For those unaware, eunuchs are castrated men and often served in particular social functions in past society. For reasons unknown, Kong was castrated at a young age in order to serve the king. I found this kind of surprising, since castrated males are often kept as servants to women, so as to not become sexually involved with them. Anyway, the castration seems to have arrested Kong's emotional development, as he's a ridiculous caricature of a lovesick boy, despite his rather advanced age.

Artwork: Park SoHee's art is a nice change from the manga style I'm used to. Here, body proportions are more realistic, and young characters possess a long-lashed, wide-eyed look and glossy, pouty lips. Again, the near-grotesque chibi style employed here, both in comedic moments involving Chae-Kyung and used for older characters, such as Kong and the Queen Mother, are hard to appreciate, though.

The verdict: Highly recommended. While this is a quietly sad story this time, I did enjoy a great portion of it and enjoyed its lighter moments. Of course, I could have done without the unnecessary, throwaway jokes with Kong. Thankfully, it didn't take up much of the book. Goong is available in the U.S. from Yen Press.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Emma, vol. 4

The story: While Emma's been away at the Meredith house in the country, William's trying to keep a calm front in London and failing miserably. When he thinks all hope of seeing Emma ever again is lost, he finds himself growing ever closer to his sister's friend Eleanor. Almost simultaneously, the Merediths find themselves in London, servants in tow. When a chance meeting between Emma's employer, Mrs. Meredith, and Mrs. Trollop occurs in a London department store, Emma is commissioned to accompany Mrs. Trollop to a party, where her connection to William is finally revealed.

Reaction: Oh my, what a hole William has dug for himself in this volume! I would go so far as to call him a jerk, if it weren't for the oh-so-apparent despair he feels at Emma's loss. Meanwhile, Emma is dealing as best she can, raising suspicions among her fellow servants when they all venture to London alongside their bosses. All in all, this volume is full of emotion, complication and surprises.

Deep thoughts: I found Eleanor's sister, Monica, to be an interesting character in this volume. When Eleanor asks her if she loved her husband upon marrying him, Monica responds, "Not a whit." Instead, she married the man that seemed to "worship" her the most. While this seems awful in a modern world of equal love in a relationship, it also inherently seems practical to the point of selfishness. But, in my opinion, it feels as if Monica is marrying the man who will put up with the largest amount of her ridiculousness. While marrying out of love wasn't an option in those days, there are plenty of other things Monica could have considered before committing herself to the poor sucker who married her.

Artwork: The beauty of Emma is in the details -- from lace-edged clothing to cobblestone streets to the beautiful Indian fabrics of Hakim's living quarters -- it's all done with an exquisite eye for the little things that comprise the world of Emma. There's also some tasteful nudity in this volume, but it's done particularly well and realistically. It was oddly refreshing to see a naked woman with a real body, curves and all.

The verdict: Highly recommended. While the beginning of this volume seemed a little slow going at first, things quickly picked up and left me on an emotional cliffhanger once it ended. I will definitely be reading the next volume soon! Emma is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist, vol. 2

The story: Edward and Alphonse meet the Sewing-Life Alchemist, who performs biological alchemy by creating chimeras, a creature with two or more population of genetically distinct cells. When the Sewing-Life Alchemist must succeed in his research for his upcoming assessment lest he lose his funding, he commits an atrocious act that causes Ed and Al a fair amount of heartbreak. When the Sewing-Life Alchemist and his research subject are killed, the Elric brothers learn about a new danger -- a state alchemist serial killer solely known as "Scar." Soon though, the two brothers are on the road again, again searching for the elusive philosopher's stone. So, what exactly do the dangerous and still-mysterious Lust and Gluttony have to do with their quest and what do they want with the stone?

Reaction: Wow! A lot of story and plot were contained in this fast-paced, action-packed volume. There's also time to learn about Edward's past and his feelings about failing to resurrect his mother. It's obvious his failure still haunts him, which is an interesting contrast with his outward bravado. While so much happened in this volume, plenty of questions were raised, too, and it seems that there are plenty of enemies that the Elric brothers will have to face eventually.

Deep thoughts: Hiromu Arakawa raises a surprising ethical question in this second volume -- is it right to experiment on animals and how is it different from experimenting on humans? Is a person's life truly worth more than an animal's, or is all life created equal? It's a topic that Osamu Tezuka has explored in detail himself and I found Arakawa's take on it fascinating. If nothing else, it sheds light on the lengths that some scientists will go through for research success.

Artwork: There's quite a bit of destruction in this volume and Arakawa gives all of it a fair amount of detail. I particularly liked the mechanical failing of Ed's arm, the many bits and pieces falling away are well done and showcase his vulnerability. Arakawa is also a great illustrator of human emotion, portraying everything from shock and horror to apathy and despair, even in non-human creatures.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I'm finding Edward and Alphonse to be fascinating characters, both in their skills and abilities, but also for their emotional depth and humanity. Their design and personalities are a fitting tribute to Arakawa's skill as both an artist and a writer. I wholeheartedly look forward to reading more of this series. Fullmetal Alchemist is available in the U.S. from Viz.

Eisner Award Nominees

Since today is the day that the Eisner Awards will be announced at San Diego Comic-Con International, I thought this would be a great opportunity to share links to my reviews of the nominated manga. While there were fewer manga nominated this year than last, the Eisner Award nominees show the diversity of the genre here in the U.S.

Without further ado, here are my reviews of Eisner Award-nominated manga:
  • Dororo, vol. 1, 2 and 3, by Osamu Tezuka, published by Vertical
  • Monster, vol. 1 and 2, by Naoki Urasawa, published by Viz
  • Good-bye, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, published by Drawn & Quarterly
Of course, other titles were nominated, including Solanin, Cat-Eyed Boy, Quest for the Missing Girl and Cowa! Of course, I hope to read and review some of these titles in the near future. Here's to hoping that manga wins big this year and that more titles are nominated next year!

Edit: Looks like Dororo was the lone manga title to receive an Eisner Award this year. Congratulations to Vertical on their achievement! Additionally, Nina Matsumoto, creator of Yokaiden, received an Eisner for her Death Note-style take on Bart Simpson for Bongo Comics' Treehouse of Horror.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Swan, vol. 2

The story: This volume starts off with an audition for Princess Aurora in a production of Sleeping Beauty, as performed by the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Company in Moscow, Russia. Of course, Masumi and Sayoko are both up for the role and must perform with Sergeiev. Masumi, who has been practicing intensely since learning off her technical errors, dances beautifully and inspires Sayoko to dance even better. Unfortunately, as the judges are still undecided, the two young women must continue to compete against one another. When Masumi becomes depressed after being left behind while her friends study abroad, she learns that she's to go to the Royal Academy in London. What new adventures await Masumi in Europe?

Reaction: I think my dislike of Masumi is beginning to wane. Even though she's still full of self-doubt and is given to bouts of flakiness, she's beginning to focus on her goal of becoming a better dancer. There were some new characters introduced here, too, which I liked. I was surprised to see a Cuban ballet dancer, Fernando. While he is exuberant and flamboyant, it didn't seem out of place, nor distasteful. The Russian characters were different, though, and I liked the physical dichotomy and difference of personality Ariyoshi Kyoko went with in designing the top two Russian ballet dancers, who happen to be related.

Deep thoughts: Developed as part of the story is a latent prejudice against Japanese dancers. It's most pronounced in Russia, of course, but it's still surprising, especially since ballet isn't native to the country. I found the Russian prodigy's backhanded comment to be the worst, ending her compliment with "for a Japanese." For me, a minority, these are exactly the kinds of comments you have to deal with if you're good at something; it's not just that you're simply good at something, but you're good at it "for an X." It's condescending and patronizing, to say the least.

Artwork: I really liked how Kyoko framed the snowfall in Tokyo -- the spacing between panels was filled with the nighttime sky and snowflakes. It really helped create a mood of wintery peacefulness, despite the inner turmoil Masumi is feeling. The costume and the character design and related movement are also beautifully done. Kyoko's art style has really grown on me, now that I've had some time to get used to it.

The verdict: If only... While I liked this volume more than the first, there are still a few things that need to change for me, mostly Masumi as a character. She's still given to naivete and foolishness, but she is beginning to grow. However, I'm sure this will change eventually, given the number of volumes in this series. Swan is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shonen Sunday Goes Live

Looks like Shonen Sunday is up and running! The site already has online manga available for reading, as well as other multimedia features, including a trailer for RIN-NE.

There are already a couple of articles online and they have creator bios available for the following:
What I'm more impressed by is Viz's latest foray into simultaneous Japanese releases between this site and Weekly Shonen Jump. This site has a lot going for it content-wise and is quite impressive considering the deadline Viz's staff must have been under considering San Diego Comic-Con International starts in just a few hours.

I've read and reviewed the first few chapters of RIN-NE, and found that it eventually grew on me. While in many ways this is a "stake in my Shojo Beat-loving heart," I hope Shonen Sunday sees success.

Local Manga Coverage

Can you tell that San Diego Comic-Con International is starting tonight? For us natives, local media coverage is focused on the four-and-a-half day event that boosts the area economy and brings thousands of people to the Convention Center.

You cannot imagine my glee this morning when I saw an article on cooking manga on the front page of the Food section in The San Diego Union-Tribune. Features writer Peter Rowe takes a moment to review the wide variety of manga, with a focus on food-related titles like Kitchen Princess, Iron Wok Jan, Oishinbo and others.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

To master dashi, a Japanese fish stock, you could consult a cookbook or an “Iron Chef” rerun. But for clear, step-by-step instructions, you may be better served by heeding Yamaoka Shiro, an impulsive Japanese reporter.

In a Tokyo restaurant one night, Yamaoka learns that the chef has quit after a boorish diner insulted his food. Commandeering the kitchen, the journalist slices wafer-thin flakes of dried bonito, katsuobushi, a key dashi ingredient.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

The online arm of The San Diego Union-Tribune,, also created a great video on my local manga shop, Rising Sun Creations. In it, owner Ed Sherman describes the vast variety of manga genres. You can view it here.

I'll be attending most of San Diego Comic-Con International and attending quite a few manga panels. You can follow my exploits downtown via my Twitter account for the next few days. First up, tonight's Tweetup event, followed by a three-day whirlwind of activity and a possible fourth day on Sunday -- it all depends on whether I have the energy to continue!

Emma, vol. 3

The story: Emma has decided to return to her hometown on the coast of England. But, while on the train, she meets another maid and is offered a job. Joining a German family at their countryside mansion, Emma goes from a staff of one at her former job to a large home with the staff to match. And, much like it did in London, it seems that her quiet demeanor has caught the attention of yet another young man. Later, Emma and her mistress pay a visit to a friend, Mrs. Trollop, who has a connection to William, no less! Meanwhile, William has decided to do as his father asks until he can pursue the woman he loves.

Reaction: This was a sedate, but intriguing volume. While Emma has an adventure of sorts in the Meredith household, there's little about William, except for his renewed sense of tragic duty to his family. Honestly, I seemed to enjoy this volume quite a bit and I think it was because of the lack of William. I really do appreciate Emma's quiet strength. And, although she does have an emotional moment or two, she is making the best of a bad situation.

Deep thoughts: A couple of times in this volume, there are unusual pets -- both a squirrel kept by one of the children in the Meredith household and a monkey in the possession of Mrs. Trollop. Much like now, it seems that exotic pets were a mark of those able to lead a life of leisure. Thankfully, not too many people see fit to keep these types of animals these days!

Artwork: I really loved the Meredith children in this chapter; they were so cute! And, I'll admit, I did like the constant stoic attitude possessed by the German servants, Hans and Adele. Additionally, the Meredith home seems elaborate and grand in nature, but not nearly as impressive as Mrs. Trollop's home, which, while smaller, is filled with exotic plants and furnished with items from the Far East.

The verdict: Highly recommended. As I mentioned, I like Emma quite a bit. Her perseverance is admirable, and her character continues to impress me with her hidden skills and talents. While I could have done without the two chapters featuring William, especially the one we're shown here, it was interesting to see how he was spending his time while his love was away. Emma is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Goong, vol. 1

This is my first review of a manhwa, or Korean graphic novel. I will continue to focus on manga, but will occasionally review manhwa from time to time.

The story: What if there was still a Korean monarchy? How would the once-abandoned palaces look and what would the royal family be like? In this Korean manhwa, Park SoHee explores just such questions. Chae-Kyung is just a simple high school girl, but when she finds out her grandfather arranged a marriage between her and the crown prince, her world is turned upside down. So, not only is she forced to marry someone she barely knows, but the prince, Shin Lee, turns out to be a huge jerk, too!

Reaction: I loved Chae-Kyung and her silly personality! She's an awkward teenage girl, put through an even weirder situation when she finds out what her future holds for her. The recreation of a Korean monarchy fascinated me, too, and I found the idea of an arranged marriage between the crown prince and a commoner intriguing. While it was confusing to keep all of the Korean terminology and the cast of characters straight, Sohee does a good enough job of keeping the plot uncomplicated in this first volume.

Deep thoughts: When the Korean monarchy is first introduced, it is mentioned that Japan and England both still possess royalty. Mind you, both of the aforementioned royal families have zero to little actual political power. But, their power is exercised much like celebrities, attracting attention wherever they go. While it's still in question whether or not the Korean royal family imagined here has any power besides their celebrity, it seems that they command the attention of the country.

Artwork: Honestly, it took me a little while to adjust to the manhwa art style. But, that doesn't make it unpleasant. The more realistic body proportions are an interesting contrast to the expressive eyes and pouty lips characters seem to possess here. Another thing that took getting used to was the somewhat grotesque chibi style used here; they're still entertaining, but are much less appealing than those employed in Japanese manga.

The verdict: Highly recommended. The idea set forth here by SoHee is appealing and I definitely want to see what develops next. Is there something more to both Chae-Kyung and Shin as characters, and what will become of their relationship? Will they settle on a loveless marriage, or will more come of this unlikely pairing? I'm determined to find out! Goong is available in the U.S. from Yen Press.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monster, vol. 2

The story: Dr. Tenma's search for Johan, the serial killer and "monster," continues in this second volume. As Tenma searches throughout Germany, Johan continues his path of destruction, killing whomever and whenever he pleases. Tenma's search finally turns up Johan's sister, now known as Nina, who had gone catatonic and suffered from amnesia when she and her brother were first admitted to the hospital years ago. At present, she has zero recollection of her life before that fateful day. And just as Tenma thinks he's gotten closer to Johan, his prey proves himself the monster and, again, escapes out of Tenma's reach. The mystery continues to deepen in the second installment of this thriller of a manga.

Reaction: I think it would be so easy to plow through this plot, much like a movie. But, Naoki Urasawa takes care in telling the story at a perfect pace -- not too fast, so that details are missed, but not too slow, either. As I'm sure the mangaka has intended, I'm getting reeled into this story, bit by bit. There are so many questions that arise and I found myself reading through this as quickly as possible, simply so I could get started on the third volume that much sooner. Of course, only more questions arise this time around and none are answered.

Deep thoughts: I found the newspaper archive interesting, as I've had to search newspaper archives myself. For the Heidelberg Post, they have no microfiche and, instead, possess reduced copies of the newspaper and even copies of stories that never saw print. It strikes me as particularly odd that the paper didn't use microfiche -- before everything went digital, it was the accepted standard. It also doesn't really do anything for the story in terms of adding another layer of depth, either. Regardless, I can't imagine what a treasure trove of information a place like that would have been. On the other hand, it seems it would be near impossible to find the specific story Tenma searches for, although he does find it in the end.

Artwork: Much like the story itself, Urasawa's artwork seems to tease the reader -- the deaths in this volume are never shown in an explicit or graphic manner. You know there's something horrible around that corner, but, much like a parent protecting a child, Urasawa never reveals the true horror of the gruesome deaths he hints at. Outside of that, Urasawa also has a deft hand at expressing emotion, whether it's fear, shock or frustration; he captures it all with seeming ease.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This story has intrigue, romantic betrayal and, even, small happy moments where you least expect them. I simply can't wait to get to the third volume and beyond. Monster is available in the U.S. from Viz.

There it is, Plain as Daylight Review: Tena on S-String, vol. 1

Be sure to visit There it is, Plain as Daylight for my guest review of Tena on S-String, vol. 1. I had mixed feelings about this book, where a young music teacher survives a car accident and is then able to see people's fates, known as "soul scores." For those unfamiliar with There it is, Plain as Daylight, manga reviewer and writer Melinda Beasi runs the site, and writes manga reviews and related articles.

Here's an excerpt from my review:

After a serious accident, music teacher Kyousuke Hibiki finds himself in the hospital and able to hear unexplained music and see musical notes surrounding others. While his doctor is unworried, he later meets a cavalier, teenaged girl named Tena Fortissian who calls the music Hibiki sees and hears a “soul score.”...Despite my best attempts at apathy, I found myself giggling from time to time, like when Hibiki lost it in a fit of rage, turning into a shonen-styled, muscle-bound hero ripping off his shirt. And I also liked it when Hibiki had to wear one of those cone-shaped, Elizabethan dog collars. Or when he goes into heart-rending detail about how important his bike is to him.

Read the review in its entirety here. Tena on S-String, vol. 1, will be available from Yen Press in August.

Review copy provided by Yen Press.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Emma, vol. 2

The story: This volume starts off with what eventually becomes a romantic date between William and Emma at the Crystal Palace. While their time together solidifies in William's mind that he wants to be with Emma, his family, who has made their fortune as successful merchants, adamantly opposes the pairing. Further complicating things is Eleanor, a young woman from a well-to-do family who has eyes for William alone. Lastly, it seems that fate has other plans for these star-crossed lovers when Emma's employer passes away. Without a job or a home, what will Emma do next? Is there any hope for these two, or are the obstacles before them simply too much?

Reaction: Ah, the romance has begun and, with it, a great deal of both internal and external conflict. If it weren't for the existence of future volumes, I would have thought our young couple had already experienced a tragic ending. Regardless, I enjoyed this volume, despite the annoyance of a couple of characters, namely Vivi, William's youngest sister, and Eleanor, the young woman besotted with William (who also shares her ardor for William with his other sister, Grace).

Deep thoughts: Class distinctions are emphasized throughout this volume. While it was initially hard to imagine such delineations of society, especially since America has no nobility and "rags to riches" is a common theme in American literature, they still exist even here. Where Victorian England had countesses and dukes, the United States has celebutantes and the uber rich, or political dynasties, such as the Kennedys or the Bushes. Instead of Emmas, we have the working poor, whether they're undocumented immigrants working as day laborers or maids, or people struggling to support their families on low hourly wages at the local discount store.

Artwork: Again, there's nothing remarkable to the character design. But, Kaoru Mori excels at showing Victorian England with her deft hand. Whether it's illustrating a lush dinner party, or a poor girl selling flowers, Mori catches snapshots of both simplicity and elaborateness. Her artwork truly immerses one in the setting and any criticism of the characters and their design quickly becomes a moot point.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This volume was an improvement upon the first. There's now a deeper conflict afoot and it's well worth watching the fallout of Emma's decision, especially considering all the challenges any relationship between her and William will face. Emma is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Land of the Blindfolded, vol. 5

The story: Most of this volume focuses on Arou's power -- from the gang's trip to the beach to the return of an old friend who knows Arou's secret. When Kanade and Masahiro get lost at the beach, Arou learns that he can focus his ability to see the past by using water from the ocean to find them. It's an interesting extension of his abilities, but it also causes him to become even more powerful and sensitive to the people and objects around him.

Reaction: In most shojo manga, the trip to the beach revolves around young romance under the stars. Here, however, Arou grows his ability in order to find his girlfriend and his sort-of friend, Masahiro, who is still in love with Kanade. Again, we learn more about Arou's past, too. What I like so much about this series is that it uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to provide another layer of depth to the characters, better explaining who they are and why they act the way they do. It's also helpful in showing just how much character growth they've experienced, too.

Deep thoughts: Arou's friend, Honmu, approaches Arou with a unique proposition -- uncovering misdeeds and solving murders using his power. This presents a unique ethical dilemma that hasn't been previously explored with any depth. Once Arou touches a person or an object, he can see its past. When Honmu tosses an earring of a murder victim at Arou, he physically shudders at the images that flash before his eyes. Considering that his unusual skill can be mentally and physically jarring, should he subject himself endlessly to visions? And since Honmu's father is the one who ultimately benefits from Arou's gift, is Arou simply being used? Or should he ignore all that and help victims and their families find closure and/or peace? While the question isn't answered, Arou finds his own answer soon enough.

This volume was just as well done as the others, but featured a new wrinkle involving water and Arou. It's hard to work a "trick of the light" into a manga, but Tsukuba Sakura is able to allude to the possibility without definitively providing an answer. Sakura's art provides an air of mystery and leaves questions for the reader, compelling them to read future volumes.

The verdict:
Highly recommended. I've been enjoying Land of the Blindfolded for quite a bit now, but I haven't found the plot tiring or boring in any way. It continues to hold my interest and the story keeps dropping little morsels of subplot that I can't help but follow. Land of the Blindfolded is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dororo, vol. 3

The story: Our intrepid heroes, Dororo and Hyakkimaru, continue their journey to find the treasure Dororo's father buried and regain Hyakkimaru's body parts. Only this time, they have to contend with killer sharks, armies, bandits, a possessed horse and a wandering ronin! While people from their past are still hunting them down, Hyakkimaru's and Dororo's adventures do come to an end in this volume.

Reaction: I was so sad to see this series end, especially on the note it did. It felt like it came to an abrupt halt and left both Hyakkimaru's and Dororo's stories unfinished. I also felt like the twist involving Dororo was completely unnecessary and didn't add anything to the story, except for giving a reason for the split with his "bro." But, I also found the stories involving the sharks and the possessed horse interesting and providing dual sides of man's relationship with animals -- while one animal is abused, the other sought to protect. Honestly, I could have read several more volumes of this series had Osamu Tezuka saw fit to continue. But, I'm glad it lasted at least this long!

Deep thoughts: I've always found Tezuka's moral stories involving animals fascinating. Much like Walt Disney, who he was strongly influenced by, Tezuka anthropomorphized the animals in his stories, oftentimes giving them the gifts of emotion and rational thought. Much like Mohandas Gandhi's quote, "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated," I feel there is something almost esoteric about Tezuka's stories involving animals. By calling attention to how his characters interact with animals, he seems to be calling to attention some very specific points about humanity's treatment of animals. Specifically, Tezuka seems to be saying in this work and others that how we treat animals is a direct reflection of our humanity. I can't say I disagree.

Artwork: After watching Hyakkimaru gain several body parts back and observing how he can lay waste to an army, I'm actually quite thankful for Tezuka's art style. If this was done in a more realistic style, I don't know that I would have been able to enjoy this series as much as I have. By using what most would classify as a juvenile, cartoonish style, I think Tezuka makes it that much easier to see the deeper message behind his work, as opposed to focusing on the gruesome and grotesque.

The verdict: Required reading. This is a great series for anyone new to manga, or to convince others that comics aren't just for kids. Tezuka is the "godfather of manga" for a reason! It's just too bad this series ended -- I would have happily kept on reading until Hyakkimaru's quest was finished. Dororo is available in the U.S. from Vertical.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Emma, vol. 1

The story: Emma, after whom this series is named, is a maid in Victorian England. Having been taken in and trained at a young age, she works for a retired governess. One day, a former student, William Jones, comes to call upon his old teacher and falls in love with Emma at first sight. And while it might seem like Emma has little experience with the opposite sex, she actually receives regular love letters from her many admirers and even a proposal from William's good friend Hakim, who is visiting from India. While she may seem like a simple, meek maid, there's more to Emma than meets the eye.

Reaction: I was quite enamored of the setting for this manga, especially since I read a lot of Victorian-era novels growing up. While some might see Emma as meek or shy, I like to think of it as a quiet strength; it's admirable, really. I also found William a peculiar character. Despite his upbringing, he resists what's expected of him and his station in life. However, I rather enjoyed his and Hakim's unexpected meeting with Emma in the lending library. Talk about embarrassing!

Deep thoughts: I thought it was interesting that CMX, the American publisher of Emma, published a note in the back regarding the historical accuracy of this manga. Unfortunately, it looks like Kaoru Mori didn't get a historical consultant for Emma until after this volume, as William receives a delivery of a toy plane. The problem is, the airplane wasn't successfully flown by the Wright brothers until the early 1900s, which is after the setting of this story. While it is a whimsical touch, I don't know why a plane in particular was chosen.

Artwork: It is claimed in this story that Emma is a great beauty, but she isn't necessarily drawn as one. In fact, she's quite plain, especially in comparison to the other women featured throughout this volume. Additionally, I found the characters somewhat interchangeable in design, unless they were older, ethnic or dressed in a certain way. Regardless, what really shines here is the background scenery, costume design and setting. Victorian England is well represented here with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, brick townhouses and iron streetlamps. There's even a flair of the dramatic brought on by Hakim, with all of his Indian finery. Of course, the costuming for the rest of the cast is era appropriate.

The verdict: If only. There were a couple of missteps in this volume that I couldn't ignore. But, I can't help but be intrigued by the story set before me. If nothing else, it's the start of a great love story, set in Victorian England -- where many great romances have taken place in literature. Of course, I'm interested in seeing what comes of Emma and William, especially with their class differences. Emma is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Millennium Snow, vol. 2

The story: Chiyuki is a 17-year-old girl who has recently recovered from a lifelong problem with her heart, thanks to her vampiric friend Toya. While Chiyuki and Toya are growing closer, Toya still refuses to admit his desire to be more than friends. Good-natured, determined girl that she is, Chiyuki decides to stay by Toya's side no matter what. Meanwhile, werewolf Satsuki is just as adamant about his love of Chiyuki, making Toya jealous along the way. In this volume, the trio goes on a trip to snow-covered mountains and uncover a scary mystery while they're at it. Later, Chiyuki's cousin Keigo makes an appearance, surprised to find that she's found new friends while he was abroad.

Reaction: Ah, I loved the romantic entanglements between this odd threesome! While Toya tries his best to hide his feelings, they can't help but come through and I can't say I didn't enjoy watching him "squirm" in his own way. The mysterious story in the first three chapters of this volume was well done, keeping my interest much more than I would have expected. Lastly, Keigo's reaction to Chiyuki's and Toya's unique relationship was sad to watch, but Chiyuki's reaction was really surprising and shows just how deep her love, understanding and tolerance extend.

Deep thoughts: When the trio get lost in the mountains, they come upon a house that hasn't changed in 200 years. It reminded me of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, where Gray sold his soul in order to stay ever-beautiful, just as in the portrait painted of him. As he committed sin after sin, the portrait is disfigured. Much like that gothic tale of horror, the house the characters inhabit in this volume is mysteriously in the same shape it was two centuries ago. While, at first glance, eternal youth and frozen time would be an amazing gift, this gift also has a downside. And it is this same downside that stops Toya from sharing the next millennium with Chiyuki.

Artwork: Bisco Hatori's artwork is easy to recognize here, as it employs the same style seen in Ouran High School Host Club. It's a bit less refined here, but still unmistakably Hatori. Her character designs, which could so easily replicate that of the characters from her other series, are different here. Of all the characters, I have to admit that I have a big soft spot for the transformations of Toya's servant, Yamimaru. In one, he appears as a young boy, in another, he's a tall and beautiful, gothic-styled man -- making him even taller than Toya (which annoys Toya to no end)!

The verdict: Highly recommended. This volume really helped this series grow on me and it's a shame that Hatori hasn't had a chance to return to this story. While there's speculation that Ouran High School Host Club may be coming its end in Japan within the next year, I can only hope that this talented shojo mangaka will return to this tale of eternal life and love, so that I can watch Toya finally give in to his love for Chiyuki. Millennium Snow is available in the U.S. from Viz.