Thursday, January 29, 2009

Martin & John, vol. 1

By Hee-Jung Park
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Why is it in a yaoi book the most fully fleshed out relationships are between men and women?

Martin & John is an anthology about the relationships between two men named Martin and John, set at different times and settings. The names alone seem to the linkage between the stories, with the characters behaving differently, so it you can't necessarily say that these are the same 'souls' finding each other. That was part of the theme of Deja-Vu, another manwha we recently reviewed, but the first story here (which is very short) is set in some future so it is not being told chronologically. Two other stories are in this volume, but the last story is not completed. While the first story can be seen as about the redemptive power of love the second seems to be more about it's destructive power, and the characters, while active participants in the story, are in some ways helpless in the face of their own emotions. I am still waiting for the yaoi aspects for the last story in the volume to come into play, with the relationship with the Martin character to John being actually split over two different characters named Martin, John's best friend that apparently is not aware he himself is gay and a small child that has been placed into John's care.

The first story is not really more than a scene between the title characters, but in the other stories it seems that the most honest examination of the characters feelings occur when one of them is speaking with a woman. I understand that yaoi are actually written with women as the intended audience, but I still sort of feel offended on the behalf of the male characters that they need a female in order to work out their feelings. Of course, there are exceptions, but these male/female conversations are the most interesting in the book. I don't see this as a deep romance title, and there are the typical overwrought teenage emotional displays, but these conversations, how they are artistically presented and how they also can emotionally draw back are among the best parts of this title.

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


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Biggles: Spitfire Parade

Original Story by W.E. Johns and adapted by Francis Bergèse
Published in the US by Cinebook

Slugline: Down the Rabbit Hole with some World War 2 aerial action!

Today is Lewis Carrol's, writer of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, birthday. A challenge went out to make this Down the Rabbit Hole Day, where blogs and the like talk about something other than their usual topics. We thought to still make it somewhat related. We normally review manga, but we have on occasion written about OEL, OGM and American comics here. But there is a third major comic's tradition. There is the Japanese manga, American comics and then there is the European comic album tradition, which Biggles is part of.

This is an adaptation of a novel from the Biggles series, which detailed the life and adventures of a British aviator in World War 1 and later in World War 2. Spitfire Parade is set at the very beginning of World War 2, as England is under attack by German air power. A Spitfire is one of the most famous of British World War 2 fighters, and Biggles is put in command of squadron of them. This is a boy's adventure comic, so the characters are not deeply drawn and the opponents remain faceless, hidden away in the machines that they pilot. There is a lot of what could be called hi-jinks, squadrons playing pranks on each other and the like.

The album itself is sized differently, larger than even American comics, but released as just a 64 page graphic novel and in full color. But the color scheme seems to use mostly flat colors, and the art style is very, very realistic. Even in the interior pages you can see the rivets on the Spitfires. There are not many war comics nowadays, though once they were very popular in the US, before the rise of superheroes in the mid to late 60s. While it is no historical text, Spitfire Parade is a nice change of pace from manga and tells a kind of story that you will rarely find there.

Which of course means we need to review a yaoi title next to get fully back into the swing of things.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rica 'tte Kanji!?

By Rica Takashima
Published in the US by ALC Publishing

Slugline: I've been teleported into an indy comic! What manga?!?

Rica is entering a Tokyo women's college, moving from the country and is hoping that the move will introduce her to the lesbian life she wants. If that is awkwardly worded, it is because I am finding it hard to draw useful comparisons to other "coming out" literature. That may because of the different cultural experiences of Japanese and American lesbians and some of it may be I have been reading the wrong type of 'coming out' literature. The point is, the early parts of the volume is more about Rica finding her place in this world with the second half about her relationship withMiho, her early guide to the gay and lesbian area of Tokyo, Nichōme. This book feels more like a thinly disguised indy autobiography than a more typical manga. Even the art style is a clean break from manga convention, being used to convey the feeling of first-person reportage rather than an attempt at art or telling a story. While the characters are interesting the book itself is feels without purpose. Not exactly preciselyplotless , but it feels like the characters are just wandering about and no overarching connection. While that may an accurate representation of reality, it doesn't make for an exciting story.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Deja-Vu: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Stories by Youn In-Wan and various artists
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Love hurts. Over and over, with no escape.

This manwha has six stories that are connected by having been written by one author, using different different artist for each. Four of the stories are loosely linked together as two lovers repeatedly try to meet through history and fail to connect. It is somewhat unusual that each chapter of the Deja-Vu story is done by an different artist. One interesting story deals with the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War 2. At first it seemed like it would be a whitewash, but then it goes straight for the jugular with an unsympathetic but historically accurate note. I think the power of deja-vu, the 'repeating' nature of the love story, is oversold in the later chapters of the story, but the individual chapters can still fairly well on their own. I think the story without the love theme was actually one of the better ones, handling how behavior and philosophy interact in youth.

Deja-Vu: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Be With You

Written by Takuji Ichikawa, Art by Sai Kawashima and Script by Yoko Iino
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: For parents, even while dead they still have to do the laundry and remind the kids to eat all of their vegetables.

Takumi has been raising his son Yuji alone after the death of his wife Mio, but to put it kindly there are a few gaps in his parenting skills. Yuji is not too worried, because of a story Mio wrote and read to him, he is under the impression that Mio will visit at the beginning of the rainy season and will leave again at the end of it. Takumi is merely accepting of his son'ss belief, until Yuji and he find an amensiac Mio in the woods. They have the rest of the rainy season to reconnect, with Mio remembering some of her memory, and the entire family relearning to love each other again. No matter what happens to her this time, her family will be better off.

This is an especially strong one-off volume of lost love regained. It undoubtedly benefited from having been a novel, movie and tv series, each showing the way, because the manga hits all of the beats perfectly, switching emotions and grabbing the high points consistently. Despite the subject matter causing one to think the manga could be a little depressing it never drags the story or the characters down. Obviously not everything is happiness and light, but at the end of the story, the experience that the characters have gained makes it all worth their while. It doesn't quite have the doomed love vibe that makes tween girls sigh, but it comes close in a manner that even I, an over 30 guy, can appreciate. In a manly way of course, no sniffling here.

Be With You is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Story and Art by Inio Asano
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: Even after college, you can never escape high school.

Meiko grabbed the first job that came along after graduating from college and she hates it. Her boyfriend Naruo lives with her, sometimes working, sometimes not and going to the twice monthly practices of his college band. Not that the band actually performs anymore, it existing mostly now as an excuse for Meiko and Naruo's group of college friends to get together on a regular basis. But when Meiko can no longer stand her own job and quits, it starts a process in which Naruo confronts his own aimlessness and their friend's feelings towards the band. The outcome is not what one would normally expect from a manga, but still falls within manga's soap opera like traditions. Meiko has to interpret and react to these events, and uncover her own meaning of the band's song Solanin.

The slugline comes from how similar the attitudes of high school students can be to the post-college crowd, especially in this manga. It is actually no big surprise, for both groups have been put into new situations outside of their experience and often don't feel ready for it. Over-thinking things is a sin that both groups indulge in, so heavily that the reader is not sure what the character really thinks or believes anymore, after reading so many of the character's flights of fancy. But this confusion and ambiguity fits the characters in Solanin, because it has been altered to fit their post-college circumstances. Plus there is the refreshing novelty of a manga about characters who aren't in high school. These two factors help to compensate for the fact that the story is really not about anything, or even really that much about anyone despite it's apparent focus on Meiko.

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


Friday, January 09, 2009

We Were There, vol. 1

Story and Art by Yuki Obata
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: Almost as confusing and uncertain as a real high school romance.

Nanami has just moved up into high school, and she is hoping to make new friends there. Of course, merely by worrying about it she has all but guaranteed that she will have a hard time fitting in. She can't help but notice that her fellow classmate Yano is acts so carefree and makes friends effortlessly. That begins the process of drawing her to him, and the fact that they are both part of the student government means that she get to see him often, often at his best and worst states. Best in the sense that he has leadership potential but worst in the way that he tries to run away from it and tries to create distance between himself and others. Part of the reason for that is that Nanami discovers that Yano's previous girlfriend died, in the midst of possibly cheating on him. It is the combination of Yano's romantic issues and Nanami's social insecurities that drives the story.

We Were There is a well executed story, not flashy at all, lacking characters with unusual powers or clinically strange behavioral problems. I can believe in Nanami's uncertainty and why Yano acts in turn either as a jerk or uncaring about anything, without having to worry about the characters acting over the top. I especially like one scene where two characters realize that they are talking past each other and clear up the confusion, rather than letting it linger and turn into a 'humorous' misunderstanding. The one problem with the title is that the characters and in many ways the story itself is so aggressively normal and matter of fact that, other than it's execution, there is not much that is memorable or sticks to the mind about it.

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


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gaba Kawa

Story and Art by Rie Takada
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: How did this happen? A manga with a good ending?

Rara is a demon that has come to the mortal world to cause evil in her guise as a mortal high school student so that her powers will increase. Conversely, if she does good to humans she loses her powers. At first that is not her major concern, Rara went to the mortal world to find the demon of her dreams. One relatively simple misunderstanding later she thinks that a human is her dream demon, and lets herself feel for him. When the dream demon finally shows, she is no longer interested in him. As Rara falls further in love with Retsu, her own existence becomes ever more endangered as her powers start disappearing.

First of all, this manga actually had a decent ending. Most manga (and anime for that matter) seem to me to have weak or inconsistent endings. Maybe because this was just a one volume story, it didn't have a chance to sprawl out of control, but the final chapter I think could have worked no matter how long the series ran, as long as the story kept to the same concept. Now I don't want to oversell this, the ending was good but not so good that I giving up manga now that I have read the 'perfect' ending. But considering how often manga fails at endings, this was a welcome change of pace. The relatively concise and effective writing and the okay art rounds out the package.

Gaba Kawa is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga