Category: graphic novels

Opus (75 Books – XXXV)

I imagine all of my readers already know Kon Satoshi, but if you haven’t seen his films (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika) and TV anime (Paranoia Agent), go watch them. Even if you’re not especially interested in anime, they’re excellent and worthwhile for anyone interested in film. Before he started working in animation, though, he did comics, including the unfinished Opus, published late last year by Dark Horse.

The story starts with an artist working on the climax of a comic he’s making, when a character he’s about to kill off manages to break out of the fictional world and drag him from the real world into the comic. From there, it goes back-and-forth between the two worlds, in a style similar to what Kon would later do in Millennium Actress. There are, of course, a lot of stories with similar premises about people finding themselves in the world of movies, games, or fiction generally, so while it’s not totally original, Kon’s treatment is solid throughout, and one gets the feeling that there really is a fully-developed world in both the real world and the comic world, or at least the parts of the comic that the protagonist, Nagai, got around to drawing. Kon uses similar themes in his later work, and though Opus isn’t as fully developed as his animation, it is interesting to see him start thinking about things that will later show up in Millennium Actress, Paprika, or Paranoia Agent.

One problem that emerges from mixing these two worlds is that the tone of the story shifts wildly from scene to scene. For example, near the climax there’s a joke when Nagai is speaking to the protagonist of his story, Satoko, about how he based her design off of his girlfriend. A few pages later, and we get to a scene in his comic about a child-murderer who kidnaps and molests (and quite likely worse – we don’t see everything he does) little girls. Part of the joke in this story is that Nagai is a stereotypical comic artist, slightly nerdy, not especially strong or brave, who doesn’t fit in at all with this dark, gritty setting he’s created. So, the tone goes back-and-forth throughout the book, but the whiplash from at least this moment is too much.

The art is decent, but nothing to write home about, really, and the panel layouts are mostly conventional. Those primarily interested in comics as a visual medium can safely skip this one.

I should also point out that Kon left Opus unfinished when he began work on Perfect Blue, and never did go back to complete it. Dark Horse did include his draft for what seems to be almost the final chapter, which is interesting because the story gets even more meta and goes right through the fourth wall, but there’s still no real conclusion, which makes the story frustrating to read. It’s still worthwhile, though, for those interested in this type of story, and a must-read for those interested in Kon’s work.…

Read More Opus (75 Books – XXXV)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (75 Books – XXXIV)

One thing many people remember fondly about Nintendo Power magazine was that, besides just straight-up video game news, reviews, and the like, they’d occasionally serialise comics based on one of Nintendo’s popular game franchises. These could easily have been mailed in as cheap promotional material by C-grade artists, but to NP‘s credit they were actually genuinely pretty good. I remember a couple of these, but unfortunately they stopped doing this not long after I subscribed, so I missed out on most of them. As far as I’m aware, few or none of these were published elsewhere, so unless you have these now-ancient back issues of a discontinued magazine, there’s no way to own a physical copy of them.

However, there’s now at least one exception, since Viz has published Ishinomori Shotaro’s adaptation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which was originally serialised in twelve parts. Now, since Ishinomori had to condense a fairly long adventure into twelve relatively short parts, much of the game had to be cut out or changed. He also added a character and changed the roles of a few others to help the story flow better as a comic and to hold the interest of those who’ve already played the game, which would doubtless be most of Nintendo Power‘s readers, who would otherwise already know what was going to happen in the story. So, there’s less going back-and-forth from the Dark World, for example, and he added another adventurer named Roam to both help, and be something of a rival, for Link. None of this bothers me; the changes feel organic to the story when taken on its own merits, and a straight adaptation would’ve been impossible given the constraints of the medium and publication scenario. However, purists expecting a faithful adaptation or hoping to see some specific part of the game in comic format will doubtless find plenty to complain about.…

Read More The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (75 Books – XXXIV)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin v. 6-7 (75 Books – XXXI and XXXII)

The sixth volume of Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin picks up where the fifth left off with Char and Sayla’s backstory, but this and the seventh volume expand to include other major characters on the Zeon side, as well, going up to the start of events in the main storyline in the first volume. This gives the series an unusual structure where roughly the first four volumes proceed from what now seems to be the middle of the story, then the next three volumes cover the beginning. Now that the backstory has caught up to the beginning of the series, I assume that the eighth volume will jump to where the fourth left off. I’d be interested to know why Yasuhiko decided to structure the story this way; perhaps he wanted to make sure his adaptation began the same way as the original TV anime before going off on a different path, similar to how the first Rebuild of Evangelion film started mostly the same as its predecessor and only made major changes in the second film.

There’s also an interesting effect in how the reader reacts to the Zeon characters in this approach. Since the first part is primarily from the Federation characters’ point of view, Zeon forces are clearly the “bad guys,” though of course it’s not totally simplistic in this. However, Yasuhiko then reverses the good guy/bad guy dynamic by treating Char as the protagonist for almost as long as Amuro had been the focus in the first part of the plot. I especially like his treatment of the members of House Zabi, and one of my favourite scenes comes when Dozle reflects on how they used to be a better family, and tells his wife “I don’t ever want you to regret marrying into House Zabi.”

I’m apparently a few volumes behind at this point (the tenth volume will be released later this month), but I’ll need to get caught up because it keeps getting better with every volume.…

Read More Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin v. 6-7 (75 Books – XXXI and XXXII)

Gyo (75 Books – XXIX)

If you enjoyed Uzumaki but didn’t think it was gross enough, have I got a comic for you. Whereas in Uzumaki artist Ito Junji only gradually ratcheted up the grotesque horror, in Gyo we encounter a rotting fish whose mechanical legs are powered by farts (not in those exact words, but it’s gas released from the animal’s orifices) within the first several pages. Really, most of what I have to say about Gyo is the same as what I thought of some of the later chapters of Uzumaki.

So, again, the art is detailed and could be gorgeous if it weren’t depicting so many rotting fish (and later, other animals).

The plot is intriguingly absurd, centering around masses of dead fish with mechanical legs coming ashore. Obviously, Ito isn’t taking himself too seriously, but there’s no winking at the audience, and I’m impressed at his ability to create a full graphic novel out of such off-the-wall concepts. One thing Ito doesn’t do in his stories, though, is explain much of anything. Where did these fish come from? There’s a hint, but nothing at all in the way of a full answer. This also holds for the two short stories included in Viz’s (very nice) omnibus edition, though whether this is a problem or not is largely a matter of personal preference.

My main criticism is that Gyo just isn’t very scary. It’s certainly gross, and does have some tense moments that make it serviceable as a horror story, but if you’re interested in reading Ito’s work I’d definitely start with Uzumaki and only move on to this if you really feel like you need more.…

Read More Gyo (75 Books – XXIX)

Oh My Goddess! v. 47 (75 Books – XXVII)

This series is going to end with a whimper, isn’t it?

I’ve been down on Oh My Goddess for a long time now; the series basically lost me way back in volume 41, and I’ve basically just been stewing in a fairly mediocre arc for three years waiting for it to end already. Things have improved somewhat in the last couple volumes, I suppose; Fujishima Kosuke is better at drawing motorcycle racing than he is any other sort of action, and the character art is still nice enough. The end is also in sight – this is the penultimate volume, and after two decades and change it does feel like the story’s wrapping up. Encouragingly, with this action-oriented story arc done the final volume should go back to a type of storytelling that Fujishima’s good at.

At least, I’m hopeful. Once it’s over, or perhaps shortly before the final volume, I may need to go back and re-read some of the early volumes, because it’s been so long since I’ve read anything interesting from the series that I’ve started to wonder why I liked it so much to begin with.

Blowing through forty-some volumes of graphic novels would also be a good way to lock up this seventy-five books project, but maybe that would be cheating……

Read More Oh My Goddess! v. 47 (75 Books – XXVII)

Limit v. 3-6 (75 Books – XXII-XXV)

I talked about the first two volumes of Suenobu Keiko’s comic Limit way back in March 2013 in a Bibliophile’s Journal post, and only this week have I gotten around to reading the other four volumes, which I read in a single sitting.

Now, that may make it sound like this is a real page-turner and I couldn’t put it down. Unfortunately, I blew through the books so fast because, well, there’s not really much to them. The story’s moderately entertaining, if a little overwrought, but as I mentioned in that previous post, it’s just Lord of the Flies but less plausible and without any of the symbolism. The characters come across as panicky and drama-prone, but only one of the characters is given a backstory reason for acting this way, and her story is a clichéd one. Perhaps my expectations of teenage maturity are too high, but I expect them to be able to spend a few nights in the woods without turning into, well, Lord of the Flies; even Lord of the Flies didn’t descend into Lord of the Flies this quickly.

Even a mediocre story is forgivable in a comic, though, if the art can make up for it. Here too, though, Limit is insubstantial. It’s decent, but not particularly creative, detailed, or eye-catching.

So overall, unless manga is your only hobby and you consume a lot of it, you’re perfectly safe skipping this one.…

Read More Limit v. 3-6 (75 Books – XXII-XXV)

Watamote v. 5-7 (75 Books XVI-XVIII)

Though I’ve been reading Watamote for a few years now, first via scanlations, then by importing the Japanese graphic novels, I’ve yet to write about it directly. I did talk about the anime adaptation shortly after it aired about a year and a half ago, and my thoughts on that still reflect my opinion of the first few volumes of the source material. As much as I love the early part of the comics, it is a formula that runs a high risk of growing stale – Tomoko comes up with a scheme to get popular quickly, or to impress someone else, this plan blows up in humiliating fashion, Tomoko learns little or nothing, repeat. Luckily, author Tanigawa Nico (actually a two-person writer/artist team) inserts some variety by giving Tomoko other people to interact with, early on her brother Tomoki, her cousin Kii, and middle-school friend Yuu. These volumes add another interesting dynamic by introducing Komiyama, a mutual friend of Yuu, and who has a crush on Tomoki. While we still see Tomoko making a fool of herself on her own like the early chapters, the most interesting parts tend to be those involving the trio of Tomoko, Yuu, and Komiyama. The added interactions also make Tomoko more easily relatable for those who, while uncomfortable in social situations, aren’t quite helpless as she appeared to be early on.

Now, I imported the Japanese editions so, while I think my reading skills are improving over time, getting through was still a bit of a slog. I have noticed that now, when I pick up the official English edition, it sounds a bit off to me. It’s a similar feeling to watching a foreign film subtitled, and then rewatching it later with an English dub; whether the translation is faithful or not (and doubtless the translator in this case is far, far more fluent than I am), the new voices are distracting and bothersome.

On a final note, the seventh volume also came with a DVD with one anime episode on it. My spoken Japanese is noticeably worse than my reading skills so I was mostly lost in about half a minute. Making things even more difficult for me, this seems to be an original story rather than an adaptation of a chapter of the comic, though I think I did manage to follow the gist of the story. The story’s okay, I suppose, but there wasn’t as much Tomoko as I expected, and frankly I’d have preferred an adaptation over this new material. The animation is decent, about on par with the TV anime.

I’m still continuing with Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy, which is taking a while partly because it’s over 800 pages long and partly because of visiting relatives. In any case, I’ll also concurrently be reading my Japanese editions of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, starting with volume fifteen.…

Read More Watamote v. 5-7 (75 Books XVI-XVIII)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin v. 4-5 (75 Books VII and VIII)

gundam2I never thought I’d come up with a title more unwieldy than Rex Quondum Rexque Futurus: Kingship in Fate/Zero, but thanks to Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, I’ve outright crushed the previous record-holder. I’ve also changed the naming scheme of this series to make it less monotonous-looking, since this is obviously going to take up the vast majority of posts I write this year.

Anyway, my only previous experience with the Gundam franchise is the movie trilogy version of the original series and Char’s Counterattack. I watched those in particular because Daryl Surat, co-host of the Anime World Order podcast, recommended those four films as the quickest introduction to the franchise. I’m not a huge fan, but I liked them a fair bit; I’m also aware of Yasuhiko’s reputation and I’m a sucker for nice physical editions of books, and Vertical’s edition is gorgeous, so I went ahead and jumped for his Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, which adapts the original TV series.

Of the films, I found the first to be the most engrossing. The story begins with an attack on a mostly civilian space colony, with many of the refugees being essentially forced into military service to man the vessel carrying them to safety. This desperate situation, along with the inevitable conflicts between the professional soldiers and the mostly young civilians forced by circumstance to fight with them, meant that the plot’s most intense moments came early on.

Going through the fourth volume, Yasuhiko’s version began suffering the same problem, and I’ll be interested to see how the story develops going forward. The fifth volume, though, covers the backstory of two of the main characters, Char and Sayla, which I don’t remember from the films, and it’s probably the most engrossing volume yet. We get to see a great deal that the rest of the series only hinted at, along with some political intrigue leading up to the war covered by the main plotline.

Yasuhiko’s artwork is excellent, and I especially appreciate his use of colour to really bring out the most dramatic moments of each chapter (most of the books are black-and-white). These pages have a very soft feel to them, and he typically has a very dominant colour on each. There are also a few pages that are more subjective in point-of-view than I’ve seen previously in Gundam, which is interesting (normally, I’d say tongue-in-cheek that “they’re having an Evangelion moment,” but I don’t want to hack off the Gundam people).

Next up is How to Read a Book, because that seems like a good thing to know.


Read More Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin v. 4-5 (75 Books VII and VIII)

75 Books in 2015 – V (A Bride’s Story vol. 6)

It just occurred to me that I should’ve used the title “Bibliophile’s Journal” for this series, since this is almost exactly what I originally had in mind for the posts already using that title. I suppose I could go back and change it – there are only five entries so far.

Also: Once again I’m able to post two days in a row. My blagging prowess grows by the day.

Anyway, perhaps I should address the real topic of this post, which is the sixth volume of Mori Kaoru’s A Bride’s Story. This volume had a lot more action than previous entries. There are bits of action and intrigue here-and-there, but much of the series is, for lack of a better term, slice-of-life in Central Asia in the Nineteenth Century. Then we get an all-out battle that takes up half of this volume, which is a nice change of pace, if nothing else.

The setting alone gives the series a lot of novelty value, I find it hard the dislike these characters, and Mori’s artwork is very detailed. Her enthusiasm for drawing this setting and story really shows throughout the books.

Unfortunately, I don’t find the story particularly compelling. The problem, I think, stems from Mori straying away from the two protagonists introduced in the first volume for several chapters, even a full volume, at a time. New volumes come out a bit slowly so the story moves at a snail’s pace already, even without the lengthy digressions that kill any sense of immersion in the plot. The setting and characters do make A Bride’s Story worth reading, though, and I’d certainly recommend it, I just prefer a more focused style of storytelling.…

Read More 75 Books in 2015 – V (A Bride’s Story vol. 6)

75 Books in 2015 – II and III (Spice & Wolf)

When was the last time I managed to post on consecutive days? For that matter, when was the last time I posted on consecutive weeks?

Also, how should I format post titles? Heck if I know.

Anyway, I can knock out graphic novels pretty quickly, as evidenced by getting through volumes nine and ten of Koume Keito’s adaptation of Spice & Wolf. The first thing I noticed about these volumes is that I had totally forgotten what was going on in the plot at this point; such are the dangers of letting so much time pass between reading installments of an ongoing story. Confusing things further is that it seems to be a little past where I am in the original novels (vol. 6), but Koume also makes a few changes here and there.

In any case, once I got my bearings, it’s a pleasant enough story, though I’d only recommend it to people who are already big fans of either the novels or the anime adaptation. The artwork is decent enough, but it’s not really worth getting excited about, either. It makes for an enjoyable break between longer, denser books (like Iron Kingdom and The Habsburg Monarchy, in my case), and that’s about it.…

Read More 75 Books in 2015 – II and III (Spice & Wolf)