Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection, Vol 1 and Slum Wolf

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“There’s definitely some kind of cycling going on here”

This month Shea and Derek discuss two great works that bring back some older, or classic, manga. They begin with Leiji Matsumoto’s Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection, Vol 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment), a series that originally ran between 1977 and 1979. Captain Harlock is a classic science fiction work, and with a space pirate protagonist who can be seen as a romantic hero. The Two Guys discuss the figure of Harlock as a curious mixture, while at the same time trying to ferret out the his philosophy. In many ways, they see this manga anchored in its time, both aesthetically and politically. But this work definitely isn’t limited to it’s time and can be appreciated today.

Next they turn to Slum Wolf, another translated collection from Tadao Tsuge (New York Review Comics). An earlier collection of Tsuge’s work, Trash Market, was released in 2015 by Drawn and Quarterly (which the guys reviewed on their June 2015 episode). Slum Wolf is a collection of nine stories originally published between 1969 and 1978 in various publications such as Garo and YagyōIt also includes an essay by Tsuge, as well as a outstanding contextual essay by Ryan Holmberg, who also edited and translated the collection. The guys discuss all the stories, to greater or lesser degrees of depth, but they spend most of their time talking about the linking features that bind most of the narratives. As both Derek and Shea point out, this is one of the manga highlights of the year, so far.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 1 and Grand Blue Dreaming, Vol. 1

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Radically Different

For July, Shea and Derek discuss two works of manga that are radically different, one from the other. They begin with Nagata Kabi’s My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment). This is the follow-up to her previous autobiographical work My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, a text the guys discussed last year. Whereas the earlier work was more targeted to a particular experience, the first volume of Kabi’s Solo Exchange Diary  is broader in scope and chronicles a variety her life phenomena. Both Shea and Derek are fascinated by this project, especially given the diary’s structure and the creator’s conversations with herself.

Next, the Two Guys check out the first volume of Kenji Inoue and Kimitake Yoshioka’s Grand Blue Dreaming (Kodansha Comics). The premise of this series is based on a young man going off to college and expecting to have the usual college experiences. What he finds instead is a wild world of drunken and naked partying, all generated by the men of the local Diving Club. Both Derek and Shea find this title quite different from their usual reading, and they didn’t expect the wildness, and the weirdness, embedded within. If you’re looking for a manga about heavy drinking and naked game play, then Grand Blue Dreaming is for you.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Claudine and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 1

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Back on Track!

This is the June manga episode, and unlike Shea and Derek had been doing the past couple of shows, this month’s manga episode actually comes out on the appropriate month…on time! And on the June show, the Two Guys discuss Riyoko Ikeda’s Claudine (Seven Seas Entertainment), a shōjo narrative set in historical France. The titular figure is a trans man, feeling trapped inside of his female body. Claudine’s journey takes him through several relationships, a lot of disappointments, and frustrations on not being understood. Next, Shea and Derek discuss the first volume of Akiko Higashimura’s new series, Tokyo Tarareba Girls (Kodansha Comics). While the style of this josei series is similar to Princess Jellyfish, the focus is more mature — and even more comedic — than that of her previous series. The guys discuss both the comedy and the messaging that seems to come through the story proper, and then contrast that tone with that of the “Bonus Story” that ends this first volume.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Finishing Up Monster, Othereworld Barbara, and Other Manga Series

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:33 – Setting up the episode
  • 00:04:17 – More listener mail!
  • 00:06:49 – Completing Monster
  • 00:49:03 – Completing Otherworld Barbara
  • 01:14:28 – Completing other manga series
  • 01:26:25 – Wrap up
  • 01:27:47 – Contact us

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Completion

On this episode of the monthly manga series — the April show, actually, albeit late — Shea and Derek revisit some of the titles that they had previously discussed. They talk about these series now that they have more volumes under their belts, and in some cases, have completed the entire series. The first of these that they discuss is Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (VIZ Media), a title that they first discussed in their July 2015 episode. The last volume of the English-language Perfect Editions was released in summer of 2016, and both Shea and Derek explore their experiences finishing up the series. As they reveal, Urasawa has a penchant for vast, multi-leveled narratives, filled with a wide cast of characters, and the guys discuss this style of storytelling, its thrills as well as its challenges.

Next, they turn to the completion of a story they first discussed on the September 2016 manga episode, Moto Hagio’s Otherworld Barbara (Fantagraphics). The second volume of this series was published in August of last year, and the guys revisit Hagio’s storyworld and its wrap-up. As they mentioned on their earlier episode, this is a complex, even vertiginous, narrative that involves dreamscapes, multiple narrative levels, and time interplay. Both of them appreciate Hagio’s conclusion, although at times they wonder about the story’s lapses into sentimentalism, and if the various narrative threads may not be a bit unwieldy.

Finally, the guys discuss other manga series that they’ve been keeping up with, even completing, individually. For Shea, that includes ONE and Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man and Yusei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom, both published by VIZ Media. Derek waxes enthusiastically about Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun (VIZ Media), Kengo Hanazawa’s I Am a Hero (Dark Horse Manga), and Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish (Kodansha Comics).

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Iceland and Fukushima Devil Fish

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:29 – More listener mail!
  • 00:06:57 – Iceland
  • 00:30:51 – Fukushima Devil Fish
  • 01:04:49 – Wrap up
  • 01:06:13 – Contact us

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Difference

On the March manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss a couple of experimental works. They begin with Yuichi Yokoyama’s Iceland, released last fall from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics. The plot of this book is minimal — two characters are searching for a third, they find him, and then they drive off in a taxi — and it’s something like you might find in Samuel Beckett narrative. But it’s Yokoyama’s art that propels the text. As the guys discuss, there is something kinetic, claustrophobic, and even frantic about the visuals. For Derek, futurism comes to mind.

After that they look at a book that both Shea and Derek have been eagerly anticipating, Susumu Katsumata’s Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press). The core text comprises nine short stories that provide a diversity of tone. The first two are the most contemporary, originally published during the 1980s and focusing on the dangers of nuclear power. The remaining pieces reflect Katsumata’s style from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, stories originally appearing in the legendary Garo and COM. Some of these are folklore-inspired narratives, presenting a pre-modern Japan inhabited by kappa and tanuki and reminiscent of the stories found in Red Snow. Others are instances of “I-manga,” introspective and highly personal pieces driven more by tone than cohesive storyline. Four critical and biographical essays, two written by Katsumata himself, round out the collection.

 

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Red Colored Elegy and The Promised Neverland, Vol. 1

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Demonic Relationships

Shea and Derek are back with their February manga episode. This month they look at two titles that, in many ways, are diametrically opposite in terms of style and audience. They begin with Seiichi Hayashi’s Red Colored Elegy, the softcover edition of which has just been released from Drawn and Quarterly. This is the story of two young artists cohabiting and the struggles they endure with their families, they work, and their relationship with one another. But there’s much more going on in this narrative, as the guys abundantly point out. This is an experimental work that was originally serialized in Garo during the early 1970s, and Hayashi’s variations in visual style, along with his employment of nonconventional storytelling techniques, are what make this such an intriguing and significant work.

After that, Shea and Derek discuss the first volume of Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu’s The Promised Neverland (VIZ Media). It’s a fantastical, and even futuristic, series about a community of orphans who learn that their comfortable life is undergirded by demonic forces. Both of the guys appreciate Demizu’s art, and they’re intrigued by the series’ premise. At the same time, they wonder about some of the choices the creators made toward the end of this first volume, especially regarding narrative focalization. But they’re both interested in seeing how things develop and if, indeed, Shirai’s storytelling choices turn out to be effective as the plot unfolds. VIZ Media released the second volume of the series earlier this month, but the guys weren’t able to get copies of that text in time for this recording (despite reaching out several times to the publisher’s publicity department).

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Five Kitaro Volumes and Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics

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Monstrous Manga

On the January manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss the first five volumes in Drawn and Quarterly’s Kitaro series, created by Shigeru Mizuki. This includes The Birth of KitaroKitaro Meets NurarihyonKitaro and the Great Tanuki WarKitaro’s Strange Adventures, and the most recent Kitaro the Vampire Slayer. Both guys love this character, and they have a good time highlighting the usual, and at times wacky, characters that populate Mizuki’s yokai narratives. Hair that shoots out projectiles? Walking eyeballs? Farts that destroy? Poisonous pee? Yep…this is the world of Kitaro.

After that, Shea and Derek take a completely different turn with Paul Gravett’s Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics (Thames and Hudson). This is a visually infused overview of manga from across Asia, not just that in Japan. Gravett’s encyclopedic knowledge of Asian comics is unparalleled. And although Shea would have wanted a more critical text, the book’s graphic-centric approach serves as a indispensable introduction to the medium.

Manga: Reviews of Servant X Service and Sweet Blue Flowers, Vol. 1

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November Is For Lovers

For November Shea and Derek discuss two very different kind of manga, but both that involve romance in one form or another. They begin with Karino Takatsu’s Servant X Service. The complete series was released in two volumes by Yen Press in 2016, and the guys spend much of the episode discussing this strip-like series. The title concerns civil servants on the job — a topic you don’t really encounter much in comics/manga — and both Derek and Shea have a lot to say about the unusual subject matter and format. After that they discuss the first volume of Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers (VIZ Media). As the guys reveal, this is an example of yuri manga, where two childhood friends who have lost track of one another become reacquainted in high school, although they attend different academies. As the story unfolds, romances and complicated relationships develop. However, the friendship of the series’ main protagonists (at least in this first volume), Fumi and Akira, is what really anchors this text.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1 and Children of the Whales, Vol. 1

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Post-Apocalyptic Takes

On this episode of The Comics Alternative‘s manga series, Shea and Derek discuss two recent publications that, in one way or another, explore a post-apocalyptic world. They begin with a classic, the first volume of Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita. Kodansha Comics has recently started to release this legendary cyberpunk series in nice deluxe hardbound editions — the second deluxe volume is due for release in late February — and the guys are excited that the title is back in print. Neither Shea nor Derek was familiar with Battle Angel Alita before, outside of hearing about the upcoming James Cameron/Robert Rodriguez film adaptation due out in 2018, but now both are hooked. In their overview, the guys highlight the kinetic quality of the illustrations, the ways in which Kishiro contextualizes even his most nasty characters, the complexities (and embedded mysteries) of his storyworld, and the ways in which he visualizes the title character…which, for Shea at least, is a little problematic.

Next, they look at Abi Umeda’s Children of the Whales, Vol. 1 (VIZ Media). This is another post-apocalyptic narrative — at least the guys think things are set in a post-apocalyptic world — and the storyworld that Umeda maps out is quite complex. In fact, as Derek suggests, there are so many nuances in this first volume that the story runs the risk of toppling over due to sheer ambiguity. However, the author is able to maintain a comprehendible balance in her tale, although several passages may require more than one reading. There are a lot of questions posed in this book, and while Derek is willing to continue on in future volumes to get the fuller picture, Shea isn’t as enamored of the story. While he admires Umeda’s art, he feels that the story’s premise, especially as it relates to the Committee of Elders, may be a bit too predictable. Still, Derek feel that the volume is worth checking out.

Comics Alternative, Manga: A Discussion of Horror Manga 2017

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“There’s a lot of greasy ooze in this text”

Shea and Derek are back with their second manga episode of the month! On this show, they discuss several horror manga that will get you in the mood for Halloween tomorrow. As they did last year, the Two Manga Guys are both thrilled and chilled with by introducing listeners to a variety creepy titles, some older and some brand new. They begin with Katsuhiro Otomo’s Domu: A Child’s Dream (Dark Horse Manga), a story that is probably the least horrific of those discussed, but it’s nonetheless one of the guys’ favorites on this episode. As the guys point out, it’s a shame that Otomo’s canonical Akira tends to overshadows other impressive efforts such as Domu. After that they look at a markedly different kind of horror manga, Hideshi Hino’s Panorama of Hell (Blast Books). This is a very violent and blood-filled work, so if you have a weak reading constitution, this might be a challenge for you. After that they cover the three-volume Mail, written and drawn by Housui Yamazaki (Dark Horse Manga). As Derek describes, this is a “lighter” narrative compared to some of the others discussed, but one that nonetheless has them wanting more.

From there Shea and Derek turn to a favorite creator of theirs, Junji Ito. However, his latest graphic cycle, Dissolving Classroom (Vertical Comics) is definitely not what they have come to expect from the horror mangaka. Somewhat similar to Fragments of Horror, which the guys discussed last year, Ito relies a little too heavily on over-the-top graphics at the expense of any bedrock terror. But the guys are more impressed with Gou Tanabe’s H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories (Dark Horse Manga), an adaptation of three classic Lovecraft stories. In addition to the titular reference, Tanabe also presents manga versions of “The Temple” and “The Nameless City.” Finally, Shea and Derek discuss Neo Parasyte M (Kodansha Comics), the latest anthology inspired by Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, which ran between 1988 and 1995. Including contributions from a wide variety of creators, this volume is similar to last year’s Neo Parasyte F, which the guys discussed on the 2016 manga horror episode. However, they enjoyed this anthology even more than last year’s.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Uncomfortably Happily and Appleseed Alpha

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:26 – Getting back in the manga saddle
  • 00:05:37 – Uncomfortably Happily
  • 00:44:42 – Appleseed Alpha
  • 01:22:55 – Wrap up
  • 01:24:37 – Contact us

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Questions of Memoir and Representation

The monthly manga series is back, and on this episode — the first of two manga shows in October — Shea and Derek discuss a couple of very different works. They begin with Yeon-Sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily (Drawn and Quarterly). This is the story of Hong and his wife becoming frustrated with living in crowded and polluted Seoul, ultimately deciding to move to a house in a remote mountain community. As the guys reveal, the majority of the narrative is devoted to the everyday challenges the couple undergo, the quotidian tasks involved in living in such a raw, isolated area. Over the course of their conversation Derek and Shea address the question of autobiography: Is this indeed a memoir of what Hong and his wife actually underwent? Neither of the guys doubts that the story is anchored in Hong’s real-life experiences, although Derek makes the argument that the construction of the narrative bears more of a fictional stamp than one of life writing.

Next the guys turn to a very different kind of manga. Iou Kuroda’s Appleseed Alpha (Kodansha Comics) is a manga based on Shirow Masamune’s original Appleseed, as well as an adaptation of Shinji Aramaki’s anime feature. Both Shea and Derek are impressed with Kuroda’s art, dynamic and drenched in heavy inks, but they’re not as excited about the coherency of the story. There are gaps in the narrative, the various events aren’t necessarily linked cohesively, and the overall story can be a bit confusing at times. Nonetheless, the guys, especially Shea, are taken by Kuroda’s efforts. Shea appreciates this follow-up to the Shirow’s Appleseed, which he has read, and Derek feels impelled now to seek out the original manga series.

At the end of month, Shea and Derek will be back with their second October manga show, a special Halloween show devoted to horror manga. Keep your ears open!

 

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and Golden Kamuy

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Getting Real

It’s the end of the month, so that must mean that it’s time for Shea and Derek to discuss their latest manga recommendations. They begin with Kabi Nagata’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (Seven Seas Entertainment), a deeply personal autobiographical work whose title is perhaps more provocative than it is revealing. In fact, the guys spend a good bit of time talking about the underlying impulses embedded in the text and how sexual preferences take a backseat to the deeper longings that Nagata reveals. This is a manga all about self-discovery, a diary-like account of the author’s attempts to understand herself within the context of her culture and her yearning for what she calls “next level communication.” As Derek and Shea highlight, this is in some ways an example yuri manga, but at the same time such a designation doesn’t do the text justice.

Next, they look at the first volume of Satoru Noda’s Golden Kamuy (VIZ Media). This is a more realistically based narrative that takes place in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. The protagonist, Saichi Sugimoto, gained a reputation during the war as an almost invulnerable hero, but he lives his post-war years unsuccessfully prospecting for gold in the Hokkaido region. There he befriends a young Ainu woman, Asirpa, and together they begin hunting down a legendary hidden treasure with a violent pedigree. Both Shea and Derek appreciate the story’s realism and historical context — in many ways, this is a didactic text — but they’re not yet sure of how Noda will handle the indigenous Ainu culture. That being said, they’re both definitely on board for future volumes.

 

 

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Scumbag Loser and Sweetness and Lightning

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:02:21 – Listener mail!
  • 00:04:28 – Comments on the 2017 Eisner Award nominations
  • 00:09:26 – Scumbag Loser
  • 00:52:10 – Sweetness and Lightning
  • 01:21:25 – Wrap up
  • 01:22:14 – Contact us

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Sweet and Sour

For the month of May, Shea and Derek discuss two works of manga that, while not necessarily diametrically opposed, are tonally opposite from one another. The first title is Mikoto Yamaguti’s Scumbag Loser (Yen Press). What begins as a story about a teenage outsider with a unique smelling ability quickly turns into a horror story involving mysterious non-human forces. As the guys discuss, there are few characters in this book worthy of sympathy, but it is this lack of empathic closeness that makes this an affecting narrative. However, the guys aren’t without their reservations, as Shea points out in his take on Yamaguti’s patriarchal approach to his subject matter. Derek agrees, but he also sees the text’s larger themes — e.g., the unrealistic demands on youth conformity — saving it from a kind of morbid frivolity.

Next, the guys turn to a series from Kodansha Comics, Gido Amagakure’s Sweetness and Lightning. The English translations became available beginning July of last year, and as of the time of this podcast recording, Kodansha has released five volumes. (Volume 6 is due out in early June.) This is a first for The Comics Alternative, a discussion of cooking manga. It’s the story of Kouhei Inuzuka, a recently widowed father, and his daughter Tsumugi. He is unable to cook adequately for his family, and eventually he becomes close with one of his students, Kotori, who helps him become proficient in the kitchen. The series is a collection of episodes, each involving a dilemma where food preparation, complete with useful menus, helps to alleviate the problem. At the same time, cooking brings everyone closer together…even hinting at complicating affections. This is a nice read and, as Shea suggests, one to take out with you on a pleasant spring day.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Happiness and My Brother’s Husband

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:03:19 – Listener mail!
  • 00:09:41 – Happiness
  • 00:48:25 – My Brother’s Husband
  • 01:15:40 – Wrap up
  • 01:16:43 – Contact us

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Marginalized Figures

On the April manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two very different series. They begin with Shuzo Oshimi’s Happiness, the fourth volume of which has just been released by Kodansha Comics. This is a vampiric narrative that takes place in the suburbs and centers on the relationships among high school students. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is Twilight-tinged fantasy. Oshimi’s characterization is sophisticated and, in places, unpredictable, and his art style captures the interiority of his key marginalized figures. Of particular interest is Yuuki, a bully who befriends the narrative’s protagonist, Okazaki, and how both characters handle their newfound vampirism once each has turned. The guys appreciate where this story is going, and Shea, in particular, is impatient in having to wait for the next few volumes.

Next, Derek and Shea check out the first volume of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband. This book is notable for a couple of reasons. For one, it is the first work of manga that Pantheon Books, a leader in major trade graphic-novel publishing, has ever released. And second, this is an all-age title by a mangaka known primarily for his gay BDSM erotic manga. It’s the story of Yaichi and Kana, a single father and daughter, and their relationship with Mike, a gay Canadian who had married Yaichi’s estranged brother. After Mike’s husband dies, he honors his memory by getting to know his Japanese family. As the guys reveal, My Brother’s Husband is a tale about relationships, coming to term with personal prejudices, and the strictures various cultures place on interpersonal behaviors.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and Platinum End

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Japanese Adam Sandler?

This month on The Comics Alternative‘s manga series, Shea and Derek check out two very different titles. They begin with Kazuto Tatsuta’s Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (Kodansha Comics). This is a 500+ page account of the reconstruction and cleanup in the wake of 2011’s disaster in Fukushima. As the guys discuss, the text does two things at once: provides objective reportage of the situation surrounding Fukushima and reveals the author’s very personal experiences  in securing and maintaining his role in the cleanup efforts. While both guys enjoyed the book, perhaps Derek more than Shea, they nonetheless wondered about Tatsuta’s background as a mangaka — “Kazuto Tatsuta” is a nom de plume, so it’s difficult to determine any bibliography — and any potential agenda (if any) underlying this work.

After their focus on real-world disaster, the guys move into the realm of fantasy. Platinum End (VIZ Media) is a current shōnen series from Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the same team behind Bakuman and Death Note. The second English-language volume was just released this month, so the guys have enough story under their belts to get a secure feel for the art and narrative. As Derek explains, the premise appears a little on the hokey side, at least at first, but as things develop the story begins to take on a life of its own, one that soon hooks you. Much of this is because of Obata’s style, but there are also larger thematic issues that make this title worth exploring. The guys discourse over the text’s theological import, its engagement with gender identity, and its satiric commentary on contemporary popular culture. This is definitely a series that both Shea and Derek will continue reading.