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 About.com, 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.