Thursday, August 28, 2008

Faust, vol. 1

Edited by Katsushi Ota
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Maybe it is Japanese language not the people that is in love with convoluted sentences and recursive thought processes

Faust is actually an prose fiction/manga anthology that is originally published in Japan as a mook (with magazine dimensions with book-like thickness) in a US format more akin to a traditional paperback. Faust has a reputation of a showcasing new voices and cutting edge fiction in Japan. For the most part the stories were in the modern magical vein, in which the stories happened in the here and now, but there is something just beyond the normal human sight going on.

Is this anthology good in the traditional sense, as in having engaging stories and characters? It is sort of hard to tell. I think that there must several inherent levels of the Japanese language that simply don't exist in English, perhaps how the kanji is written can affect it's meaning? And when you translate those texts into English, unpacking those concise kanji that can have multiple layers and meaning results in long sprawling English sentences that seem to wander about. This problem does not appear as strongly in manga, because at least part of the story is being carried by the art. In short stories, the English tradition has been towards efficiency of word and action, dating back to Edgar Allen Poe who created the western short story. Every word needed to have meaning and carry forward the story in his work, and his successors have followed in Poe's trail. Reading the stories in Faust in comparison, they all seemed very meandering. Unpacking the plot sometimes took work and in one particularly surreal example I gave up and just went along with the ride. The characters would think aloud so much it was hard to determine what if any internal lives that they had. Because that is another example of the difference between the languages, the Japanese language contains so many different meanings in the same words that English speakers just pick up the dictionary meaning and so miss the rest of what is 'said', which would be unspoken and part of the character's internal life in an English short story. But in translations all this has to be laid out otherwise the meaning of the text would be lost.

I think. One of these days I will sit down and have a long talk with translator about this process.

That being said, Faust is worth reading, even if it seems difficult and meandering. It is an attempt to do something different and new in the American manga industry, even more so than the other light fiction that have been published. Only one short seems directly connected to anything already in the US (an xxxHOLic short) while 'Drill Hole in My Brain' seems to ferociously cling to surreal jumps and ignoring the niceties of plot. But the rest of the stories can stand alone without too much work on the part of the reader. There are also some interesting behind the scenes shorts, talking to writers in an odd format. I don't understand why some of the manga is repeated in color and black+white, but the color versions drew a deeper emotional response from me, while the manga that was presented only in black+white showed the excessive talkiness that seems to be the hallmark of Japanese fiction. While the plots are hard to decipher, it is the characters that are the anthology's strength, even if the most interesting and revealing of them tend to be not the one that you expect.

I also feel like I need to bring this up. Putting age guidelines on books that are mostly prose offends me on a basic level. Reading and learning is perhaps a fundamental right, and one should read what interests them and what one has the capability to understand. By placing arbitrary age limits on a prose title, you are inherently limiting people to that arbitrary category. It is an accident of legal history that we can place age restrictions on images but not on words (free speech is free, but free expression through art is not) but even though there is some art here, the majority of the work is prose and should be treated like prose rather than the age-limited art. If you want to see the damage of what even well intentioned age rating can do to a comic industry, just look up the history of Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and the Comics Code Authority.

And yes, this is a picayune infraction, but this is one of the areas that I care deeply about, about everyone's right to read and write what they wish, and even the best intentioned limits should be pushed back against.

Faust, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Speed Grapher, vol. 1

Written and Illustrated by Tomozo and Yusuke Kozaki, Based on the story by GONZO
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Not about a guy who can draw real fast.

Speed Grapher is about war photographer Saiga's new job as a freelance political paparazzi in a near future Tokyo suffering from another major economic crash. After an injury forces him to take a less 'strenuous' job photographing corrupt politicians and dodging their security details, Saiga confronts one of the corrupt politicians that he had revealed as he is being killed by a man who literally stretches like rubber. Escaping through the use of his wits, Saiga traces the politician trail to an underground club that is using an unaware student named Kagura to grant some people strange abilities and to kill others. In the confusion of confronting them, Kagura gives Saiga the ability to destroy anything he takes a picture of, and they them flee as Kagura awakes, trying to avoid others that Kagura has given abilities to and trying to uncover what is going on.

The background of this manga feels a little odd, with the special abilities of the world relying on neither magic or science. The powers depend on the receiver's psychological state, where the power derives from the character much more than in other titles. The war photographer Saiga takes pictures of things and places in the process of being violently destroyed. But rather than capturing that moment in a photograph, Saiga now causes that moment to be forever lost, showing an internal conflict of Saiga. There is also the inherent subtext of Kagura, the overlooked and forgotten student, being able to give powers to people who want them, but the powers she grants are never exactly what the people need. But through it all Kagura is able to maintain her own detachment and 'innocence' from the consequences of the abilities she grants. Even though these subtexts are not fully explored in this volume, it does set up some interesting character bits to be followed up later. I have not seen the anime that the manga is based on so I do not know how closely the manga follows the anime's plot, but at least it seems implied that these points will be dealt with. Not only is there depth to the story and how the powers work and how they reflect the characters, Saiga shows cleverness in using his environment and his own abilities to even up the odds in otherwise difficult situations. The fact that the characters and story show such signs of thought and consideration, for the moment at least, gives me hope for the series and makes me half interested in seeing the anime.

Speed Grapher, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, vol. 1

By Kou Saskura
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Another entry in the why did they bother? category

Hector and Isaac are both generals in Dracula's demoniacally enhance army. They are wiping out all resistance ahead of them until Hector disappears. Isaac is sent to retrieve or kill Hector, depending on what Hector has done. But Hector has just been sunken in depression in a church, doing nothing but still Isaac unleashes a werewolf to find him, uncaring of the consequences. One of those consequences is the murder of the father of Ted, a boy in the village where Hector is hiding, and it is he who drives Hector to do something about the danger that is coming, no matter what the price will be to Ted.

I do not play video games, so I have no idea how much fidelity that the manga has with the source material. The only thing I can tell you that two disciples of Dracula with uncertain powers seem to be heading toward a confrontation whose reasons I can barely understand. I mean, we need to have a fight, otherwise why bother, but the reason why they fight is a lot of hemming and hawing, along with Dracula standing next to a window for the entire manga looking dangerous. Supposedly the main character of the manga is someone for the time being just seems to be a supporting character, maybe as witness type character who is supposed to tell others of the action. But it is just such a half-assed way to tell a story. Even the church's nun Rosalee seems more important to the story, and we do a lot of character work on her, but then she just drops from the story. This seems to be something that only fans of the videogame would enjoy, but considering it's haphazard nature it is hard to tell whether or not even video game players would get it.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Burst Angel, vol. 1

Story and Art by Gonzo and Minoru Murao
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: When is a sequel a prequel?

Jo and Meg are freelance troubleshooters in a near future Tokyo where violence is common. Even in Takeru's private school, far from the dangerous parts of Tokyo that Jo and Meg live, there is violence in the form of school bullying. The two types of violence converge as Jo and Meg's pursuers (who were trouble they had earlier shot at and now were interested in returning the favor.) discover them hiding in a randomly chosen apartment, which just happens to be Takeru's. Even after Jo and Meg leave Takeru's life (after causing a lot of property damage in the apartment's parking lot) he cannot forget them, and after some other cases manages to catch up to Jo and Meg, just as someone from Jo's past also catches up with them.

From some poking around online, it seems that this manga is a prequel to the animated series. It focuses on two characters from the anime, Jo and Meg, with a recurring role for Takeru, a student who is bullied often. Takeru seems to be counterpart of Kyohei in the anime, the ordinary guy drawn into the world of violence that Jo and Meg live in. Considering that later the threats that they face are more epic in scale, here the array of thugs and enforcers that are the majority of the opponents of the volume don't really seem like a threat. About half of the volume have chapters that Takeru appear in, as he tries to understand the world he has been drawn into while the episodes that feature Jo and Meg show off their relationship, dysfunction and all. Some of the fight scenes are a little muddy, especially the ones that feature opponents that Jo actually have trouble with, so it is hard to compare the intensity of the fights. Jo has the standard thousand yard stare/PTSD symptoms that so many of the 'tough' women in manga/anime have. Which makes me wonder what is/was the source of the yuri undertones between Jo and Meg, since I doubt Jo is mentally capable of reaching out to begin one. It is also sad the only way that I could determine that this was prequel was from wikipedia, not the actual book itself.

Burst Angel, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Monday, August 18, 2008

Update to Blog Frequency

As one can imagine, things are tough all over, and the number of review copies I have been receiving have been dipping. I cannot afford to purchase that much new manga out of pocket, so for the time being Prospero's Manga will be dropping to 2 reviews a week, posted on Tuesday and Thursday. Sorry about this!


Friday, August 15, 2008

Seduction more Beautiful than Love, vol. 1

Created by Lee Hyeon-Sook
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Korean schools still have corporal punishment? Another important safety tip for manga fans who go abroad.

Daoun is a new teacher at a high school and temporarily takes over the homeroom of a class with one of those quietly tortured pretty boys the clutter up manga/manhwa, Ryumin. He barely pays any attention to schoolwork but enjoys twisting her head about over whether or not he is trying to seduce her, drawing her out emotionally then (apparently) feigning disinterest. But both have their own other romantic interests, Daoun has an old college friend Hyunwoo who never managed to tell her how he felt before and has become a new teacher at the same high school that Daoun teaches at and Ryumin has a girlfriend (of a sort) that seems to be able to manipulate everyone but him.

This is a fairly low key title, no big or broad character traits or actions. Daoun is a little clueless, which is best shown by how her mother manipulates her into a blind date but also because she can't seem to make head or tails of Ryumin or Hyunwoo . Why is it in real life (or at least western fiction) that it seems women can see right through guys (not that it is all that difficult) but in manga/manhwa/eastern fiction women never seem to have the first clue on what is going on men's minds, or even can decipher the most blatant of actions? I realize that the truth is probably more in the middle (and that fact would destroy whole buildings of the Library of Congress) but it just seems that Daoun would have at least some clue Hyunwoo likes-likes her, even if she doesn't acknowledge it out loud. Most of the other character's confusions are more or less believable but having the main character being so clueless is just annoying and let's you see the hand of the author pushing the characters around like chess pieces just so that he can have story that lasts longer than an episode. And more importantly make sure to have lots of moments filled with sexual tension. Nice art though, easy to recognize the characters and each is attractive in their own way.

Seduction more Beautiful than Love, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Mysterians, vol. 1

Created by Chuck Russel and Michael Uslan, Script by Jay Antani with Art by Matt Hentschel
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Not related at all with the cult classic Japanese giant critter movie

Imagine a Earth where Dick Cheney and George Bush were considered environmental wussies. Yes, hard to imagine, but that is the near future of the Mysterians, where the environment is going to hell in a hand-basket, except that there are not enough reeds left growing to weave a hand-basket. But five teenagers whose parents died arguing that the environment and the political situation was deteriorating learn that they have been changed, partly through their own abilities and some of them by genetic/organic engineering derived from alien technology. Wait, alien technology, did I forgot to mention the aliens? Yep, you see the aliens are behind all of the trouble on Earth because they need to reduce the Earth to a polluted wasteland so they can get a decent breath of air. But not to worry, five teenagers who have never meet before will gain strange powers to save the Earth! The only thing that is missing is a few color pages so that we can tell which color each teen's organic bio-armor is, since biologically similar creatures still would never be as tacky to be all in the same color!

Heh, sorry. The environmental message here is a combination of Captain Planet and X-Files, and even some of the classic cult movie THEM. It is so blatant and over the top that it is hard to take seriously. At least from a storytelling perspective, truth always seems so much more illogical since it does not have make sense as a plot. Obviously there is also the sentai/Power Ranger influences on the story are just a little bit obvious. Still, the whole story seems very simplistic, but the creators seem to have decided to compensate for that by having just as much over the top goriness. The disguised aliens are unstoppable unless you pull out their power source, which gives one a lot of reason to rip their corpse apart looking for the important bit. So lots of exposed spines and intestines. Nothing too stomach turning, but it was actually surprising to see it shown. Not sure if the shock value is worth it though.

The Mysterians, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jyu-Oh-Sei, vol. 1

By Natsumi Itsuki
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline:Classic sci-fi straight out of creature double feature era.

Thor and Rai are identical brothers with radically different personalities. Rai is the studious type wanting to be scientist while Thor wants to be a pilot, but since they are sons of one of the leaders of Earth colonized solar system, they are being pushed more towards leadership positions. But somethings happens, and their parents are killed with the brothers exiled to the secret prison planet Chimera, where the days are months long and the environments are so harsh that most die. Thor and Rai are separated, and Thor learns that his weaker brother has died. In order to get revenge for his family and to get the necessary treatment that all inhabitants of this solar system need to live into their twenties, Thor decides to become the Beast King, leader of Chimera and the sole person allowed off world. In this he assisted by Tiz , one of the few women on the planet that seems astonished by Thor's ability to resist her blunt demands and Third, a character that Thor is rightly suspicious of.

Before cable, you would be able to watch barely logical sci-fi pulp shows and movies on Saturday, dating back to the 50-60s. Popular sci-fi at that them was an uneasy mix of the big idea, the idea of planet's rotation being so slow that it the day/night would be seasons and other little twists on sci-fi tropes. But the big focus of the story would always be the pulp aspects with dramatic rescues, allies who seem to be villains (much like early portrayals of Flash Gordon allies Zarkov and Barin), treacherous environments, even more treacherous enemies and despite the presence of blasters most of the combat being hand to hand. So by the modern styles of sci-fi this is horribly dated, but it also fun and while I would trade my Phillip K. Dick novels for it, it is sci-fi story that many will be able to identify with.

Jyu-Oh-Sei, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Monday, August 11, 2008

Aspirin, vol. 1

By Eun-Jeung Kim
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Never has a title been such an accurate descriptor of the drugs I needed after reading it.

This is another one of those manga that thinks by being self-referential, they can get away with having a ridiculous plot and have random things happen. Why? Because the characters seem to know that they are in a manga and absurd plot contrivances and weird coincidences happen in manga all the time, so why bother stringing together the very basic plot structure. Or have characters be internally consistent or even have motivations beyond the most basic? Someone unleashes the four gods, but he really didn't and he was set up to take the fall, but he can do it because someone says he can, blah blah blah. Didn't care, the main lead is a cipher, the only person that that I felt the least amount of connection to was Samson, the nun who mom had relations with the Angel Samson, which is wrong on so many Biblical levels that I can't even begin to describe. The art is okay, the actual mechanics of storytelling is decent, it's just the story itself that is trying to be told makes very little sense and has even less desire to be so.

Aspirin, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Friday, August 08, 2008

Vidia and the Fairy Crown

By Haruhi Kato
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: When did Disney add a whole colony of magical fairies to NeverLand?

Vidia is one of the fairies of Neverland, living in Pixie Hollow with the more famous TinkerBell. Unlike most of the other fairies she has seen way too many goth movies and is a bit dark and sarcastic. However, despite her joking on the matter, she insists she would have never stolen the fairy queen's crown the night before a party. Very few fairies believe her, since Vidia wears way too much black, but Prilla, one of the younger fairies believes in Vidia's inherent, well, not goodness but lack of cruelty and together Vidia and Prilla follow the chain of evidence that leads to the missing crown. Despite the temptations, Vidia does the right thing and returns the crown to the queen even as she disses going to the party to celebrate her successful return of the crown.

Silly Disney all ages manga, can't be as cruel to it as I want to, it's like kicking a kitten. And not one of those evil Llolcat kittens. The plot is very linear, which is my main problem with it. We go from scene A to scene B to scene C and there is very little real interpersonal conflict. Sure, no one really likes Vidia , but no one really interferes with her task or even tries to delay her. So yeah, that is about as realistic as most other children's fiction, but once you accept that, it's not that bad. There is only one place that the chain of logic really didn't follow, and Vidia does have a believable moment of weakness, the desire to pay back everyone that had accused her of something she didn't do. Trust me, every kid knows that feeling and the desire to get even. But anyone over the age of ten is just going to find overly linear and not very interesting, while younger readers may find it more engaging.

Vidia and the Fairy Crown is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Jade of Bango, vol. 1

Story by Ae-Ju Yim with Art by Jin-Ju Yim
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Despite Japan and Korea having a history of disliking each history, their manwha and manga is not that different.

Lin, is a cheerfully happy girl despite the fact that her mother was killed by a monster one night and lives with her forgetful father. Of course, she just accepts that monsters killed her mother in a world that seems otherwise exactly like our own. Despite the fact that she can see ghosts Lin doesn't think that there is anything wrong with her world until monsters start attacking her directly and night falls instantaneously around her. After a rescue she learns that she is the Jade of Bango, with a Phoenix related power that can destroy the world, so of course she gets a hot but emotionally distant protector (is this an attempt by get women to accept that emotionally distant men are cool, or that they need to settle for that?) Lin is also informed that he will be her husband. Of course she has no problem with that, or that her protector's rival arrives to take her away from him, but despite the whole kidnapping thing she thinks that they are friends. And yes, it is even sillier than this brief description of it.

Wow. Mystical girl with the power to destroy the world is given a hot but emotional distant protector. Never have read anything like that. This week, that is. As a manwha I was hoping to see some interesting spins on the standard manga genre conventions, but nothing of that was here. Sure, some of the iconic imagery was different (different portrayal of the ghosts) and the costumes seemed more Chinese based than usual, but otherwise is way too conventional. Even the two girl friends with one more mysterious one having lesbian overtones is right out of the manga playbook. The one thing that was forgivable was this appeared to be a double volume, so at least there was decent chunk of story to suffer through.

Jade of Bango, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Blog update

Some stuff got delayed, and we're are going to be blogging daily for a little bit to catch up.


1520, vol. 1

Story and Art by KAI
Released in the US by UDON

Slugline: Is humorous transformation really a manga genre?

Zellos is the prince of a poor kingdom and has been told that he will marry the princess of rich neighboring kingdom. But by merely sneaking in to see his future bride, he is disgusted by her spendthrift ways, especially by her refusal to eat a rare delicacy that she was offered by her father's Prime Minister. Through a bit of silliness both Zellos and the princess's super-efficient maid Ana each take a bit of the cake with unusual consequences. Both characters are 15 years old but thanks to the magic of the cake their combined ages now cannot exceed 20 years. That means their default age is 10 years old each, but if one of them laughs/cries (depending on which one) they revert to their true age of 15 while the other is further regressed to the age of 5 but eventually revert back to their average of 10 years old. This is a problem because the Prime Minister is not happy his plan failed, the leadership of the neighboring kingdom is not happy with Zellos's wedding plans and there are some bandits out there that are far too interested in two 10 year old 'kids' wandering around unsupervised.

Magical aging/transformation manga seem to be numerous enough to form their own subgenre but this manga has some clever variations on the theme. The shared ages mechanism feels rather novel (it probably has been done before, but I don't recall any at the moment) and the characters, rather than being complete opposites Zellos and Ana have strong devotion to duty. The differences between them is how they express it and will undoubtedly be the source of their personal conflict. That still is a far more believable and sustainable for characters, rather than having opposites attract. Still too early to see how the series will turn out but I am interested in the journey so far.

1520, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Warcraft: Legends Vol. 1

Written and Art by Jolley, Kim, Knaak, Lewter, No, Olivares and Wellman
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: A perfect fine anthology of Dungeons and Dragons...I mean Warcraft stories.

There are four short stories in this volume, the first being an side story of the Trag, the minotaur from the earlier Warcraft manga facing his own uncertain future. There is a story about about a farmer seeking to better his family through confrontation with zombies, a gnome making a name and legend for himself and a dwarf learning the meaning of family and responsibility. Only the first story really felt like Warcraft, the rest could of them could have been any fantasy world with the generic races that populate them. They are perfectly well crafted and put together stories, but you could have put any number of different titles to them and it would be hard pressed to tell these stories were not crafted with that world in mind.

Warcraft: Legends Vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand