Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Henshin and Akira

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On this episode of the monthly manga show, Derek and Shea discuss the recently published Henshin, by Ken Niimura (Image Comics), and Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic Akira (Kodansha Comics). They begin with Henshin, a thirteen-story collection from the artist behind I Kill Giants Henshin(and written by Joe Kelly). Shea points out that it’s difficult to find much information on Niimura, as most of his work has been published in either Japan or in Spain. But Henshin — which means “transformation” in Japanese — may be a good introduction to his style and range of work. As the guys point out, the thirteen stories cover a variety of genres, from crime to cooking to sports to salaryman narratives.  There are also four autobiographical shorts interspersed almost evenly throughout. Neither Shea nor Derek feel that these tales are as successful as the non-autobiographical stories, but they do show a lighter and more personal side of Niimura’s work. The tone in the other nine pieces are more dramatic, and at times tender and even melancholic. In all, the collection is a multifaceted example of a non-traditional kind of manga storytelling. Next, the Two Guys look at a classic manga title, Otomo’s Akira. This series is a challenge to discuss, because it’s a sprawling saga that develops over six collected, and densely packed, volumes. But Derek and Shea do their best to highlight the premise and major events within the series, as well as addressing the significanceAkiraVolumes of the story, contextualizing it within the 1980s and as an example of post-apocalyptic cyberpunk storytelling. They briefly compare the manga to the anime version, pointing out many of the stark differences between the two. Shea emphasizes what he sees as the Western or European storytelling influence on Akira — indeed, he sees the same in Henshin — yet at the same time highlights this as a seminal and defining work of manga. They even discuss Akira‘s publication history, originally serialized in the seinen weekly Young Magazine (1982-1990), introduced to American audiences through Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint (1988-1996) — and being one of the first English translation of a manga series published in its entirety — then being published by Dark Horse beginning in 2000, and then finally having new editions released through Kodansha in 2009. It is an ambitious attempt for the Two Guys to cover such a title, and they could easily devote an entire episode to the series. But listeners will come away with a sense of the story, if they’re not already familiar with it, and hear some of the major critical points that define Akira. If you’re interested in manga, this is definitely a narrative you have to experience.

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About Derek Royal

The Comics Alternative is a weekly podcast focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics. (There’s nothing wrong with the superhero genre…we just want to do something different.) New shows become available every Wednesday…much like the comic books you get. Episodes feature reviews of graphic novels and current ongoing series, discussions of upcoming comics, examinations of collected editions, in-depth analyses of a variety of comics texts, spotlights on various creators and their oeuvre, roundtable discussions with prominent critics and scholars in the field, and interviews with the artists and writers who make all of this possible. Along the way, Andy and Derek will talk about the various books that they are reading; the many pop cultural references that, for better or worse, inform their lives; and the unpredictable (and inexplicable) weirdness that seems to creep into each episode. In essence,The Comics Alternative podcast is brilliantly simple: Two guys with PhDs talking about comics.

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