Category: graphic novels

Uzumaki – Spiralling Into the Grotesque

uzumaki4I’ll give Uzumaki this: I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Author Ito Junji’s concept sounds like one hell of a creative writing challenge: the town of Kurouzu-cho is cursed by spirals. Every chapter repeats the “spiral” motif somehow, and though some episodes succeed more than others, I have to tip my hat to Ito just because he could write a three-volume comic using such an odd hook.

The first few stories are the most effective, in part because the supernatural elements only appear late in the episodes. So, in the first story, a man becomes obsessed with spiral-shaped objects, like snail shells or whirlpools, which causes his wife in to develop a phobia of spirals in the second chapter. Throughout each of these chapters the characters look like they’re simply crazy, and the horror is more effective because the bizarre events in this town are ratcheted up gradually in each succeeding story arc. So, the audience isn’t shocked at the outset and desensitised for the rest. Also, a series of stories taking place in the same town like this runs a risk of straining the audience’s suspension of disbelief with questions like, “Why doesn’t everyone leave?” Because of the gradual escalation, though, it’s plausible that, at the end of each episode, the town’s residents would assume they’ve seen the worst and choose to stay.…

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Chihayafuru (and: Reading a French Japanese Comic)

I’ve written before about my attempts, some more successful than others, at reading Japanese comics in the original Japanese. Since this strategy has worked fairly well at learning that language, last month I decided to order some comics in French. Since I don’t know many French comic artists, I figured I’d import the first four volumes of Pika Edition’s printing of Suetsugu Yuki’s Chihayafuru, which doesn’t look like it’ll receive an English-language release anytime soon.

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The Bibliophile’s Journal VIII

Yeah, dropping the post subtitling thing after one week. Maybe next time, if I think of something good.

Anyway, this past month may mark the beginning of a change in the way I read books, since I’ve subscribed to Audible. I’ve listened to a handful of audiobooks in the past, and though I don’t like them nearly as much as sitting down and reading through a physical book I decided to give this a try since I often find myself listening to podcasts while, say, cooking or working out. I don’t actually follow many podcasts, though, but audiobooks seem like a logical step. Besides, I don’t get through as many books as I’d like, and this should help with that.

The first audiobook I downloaded was Mishima Yukio’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Like I expect from a Mishima novel, much of the story consists of either seemingly unrelated anecdotes of the narrator’s life or philosophical tangents, but they all tie together and lead towards the novel’s climax (so it seems so far, but I’m 90% through and am pretty sure I know where this will end). Mishima’s stories remind me somewhat of Flannery O’Connor in that he likes to make use of the grotesque not so much for shock value, but to make a larger point, though that point seems more obscure with Mishima than O’Connor. At least, I feel like I grasp O’Connor’s ideas more readily than Mishima’s.

On a side note, it took some time to get used to the reader’s voice. It’s softer and higher-pitched than I expected, though I suppose it does match what I imagine the narrator’s voice would sound like. I guess I was just prefer movie announcer guy’s voice when listening to someone read.…

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On the Hobby of Collecting Hobbies

One consistent problem I’ve had throughout most of my life is that my principal hobby is collecting hobbies. Almost everything is interesting to me, and my shelves are stuffed with books of literature, history, philosophy; DVDs and glorious blu-rays of film and animation; plenty of music and comics. If I had the time, I’d get into even more – theatre, fine arts, sports, cuisine, and who knows what else.

So much dabbling does have its advantages. There are few people with whom I can’t find some common interest, provided it’s not too obscure – and even then, there’s a decent chance I’ll at least be aware of what they’re talking about. Having a wide field of reference also helps when dealing with authors or directors who also have a wide field of reference, whether I’m reading through T.S. Eliot’s tangles of allusions or Tanigawa Nagaru’s off-hand references in the Haruhi novels.

It also allows me to be especially selective as far as what I read and watch. The majority of the books I read, the films I watch, the albums I listen to, and so on, are at least memorable. Of course, it’s also possible that I don’t have as much appreciation for the excellent since I don’t have as much mediocre content to compare it to, but for now I’m content with the selective approach to media.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of free time, so even though I have a working knowledge of so many topics, that knowledge tends to be fairly shallow. So, for example, I watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica as it came out, and though I enjoyed it, much of the discussion of the show centred on how it relates to other magical girl shows. I had nothing to say on that, because I can count the number of magical girl anime and comics I’ve experienced on one hand. I did catch the Faust references, though.

I’ve occasionally considered focusing my attention almost entirely to just one, maybe two fields, but have never seriously attempted this. As much as I respect those who have an encyclopedic knowledge of a particular subject, I find the world too fascinating to devote myself to just one aspect of it. So, I continue to run about in circles, in a mental equivalent of getting a free sample of every item at the supermarket without actually buying enough of any one thing to make a full meal.…

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Gunslinger Girl – Finale

So, after a tumultuous, often uncertain journey of seven years, I’ve finished Gunslinger Girl. I’ve written a couple posts on Aida Yu’s series before, after its return from publishing limbo in North America, one enthusiastic (of volumes 7-8), one rather concerned about the direction the author had taken (of volumes 11-12). Though volumes 13-14 were fine, I’m afraid that this final (fifteenth) volume largely, though not completely, justified my concerns.

The climax to Gunslinger Girl‘s story is in the next-to-last omnibus (volumes 13-14). Aida gives us one more big shootout with the most prominent terrorists the Social Welfare Agency had been fighting, including the man behind the Croce Incident. These volumes are very action-heavy, which is good because that’s what Aida is best at. Many, if not most, of the main characters are dead by the end (which shouldn’t be a spoiler if you’ve read even one volume, since the girls’ short lifespans is emphasised constantly throughout the series), so the fifteenth volume shouldn’t have much to do besides tie up a few loose ends.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of the ending. Some parts I like, some I don’t, and some I’m just unsure of (note: if you care, I’m about to get into some legitimate spoilers).

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The Bibliophile’s Journal VII: Advent Children

Yeah, I’m classing it down this time with a rather silly subtitle. Couldn’t resist, for some reason.

Anyway, as you may guess from my last few posts I’m back to my usual self, devouring one book after another. Of course, there’s always a trade-off, so recently I’ve been watching fewer anime and movies than usual. There are several interesting-looking shows coming up this season, though, so perhaps my reading schedule will collapse again in a week or two. In the meantime, besides Haruhi and The Sea, here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

X (fifth omnibus), by CLAMP – I went in expecting I could summarise it much like the previous volumes: “I don’t get it.” That wouldn’t be fair, though, since at this point I’ve gotten used the huge cast of characters and their various backstories and plot threads. I’m still not totally invested, perhaps because it took so long for me to settle into the story, but I’m enjoying it enough that I’m not reading just for the art anymore.…

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The Bibliophile’s Journal VI

Well, now that I’m mostly moved into a new apartment, I’ve had some more time to read. Part of my newfound free time has gone into resuming my study of Japanese, as well as my usual mix of film and anime, but on the literary front here’s what I’ve been up to:

I finally, finally finished Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. For the patient reader, the narrator’s frequent asides, long descriptions, and multitude of characters and plot threads can be quite entertaining. I enjoyed them for a couple hundred pages, but as the book dragged on and on I began losing interest. By the halfway point, I really only cared about Pip’s relationship with Estella, and that’s partly because I can identify a little with his feelings in a hopeless, one-sided romance.…

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The Bibliophile’s Journal V

My reading schedule has collapsed over the last month, due to a new job with longer hours and commute than my old part-time gig, in addition to apartment hunting. It’s been a struggle even to keep up with my anime-viewing, but I do have a few things I’ve finished over the last few weeks.

The biggest project is the fourth and final volume of Sir Winston Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, the first volume of which I read roughly a year and a half ago. The books are actually pretty engaging for the most part, so I’m not sure why I let months pass between each volume; too many other options, I suppose.…

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Maynguh Memories of Japanese Japanese Comics

clampSo, say you’ve started taking Japanese classes. What do you want to do, especially if you’re a bibliophile like me? Start reading, right? Novels and poetry are pretty tough, though, so you go to the next best thing – comics, which you’ve just discovered are not mayn-guhs but manga. I mean, hey, they’ve got pictures and stuff to help you out, so they’ll be easy, right?

I won’t say “wrong,” but they’re not really “easy,” either. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, it depends on which series you have the fortune (or misfortune) of picking out. My experience with Japanese comics in the original language started inauspiciously with the first two volumes of CLAMP’s X, which I found at a Half Price Books. It may as well have been printed in Mandalay, for all I could get out of it; a few years later I got an English edition, which only improved matters slightly but did show me that the density is not a bug but a feature, so I needn’t feel too bad about getting totally lost in the Japanese volume.

As a general point, though, already knowing the story does help immensely in following these comics. I fared much better with another CLAMP series, Cardcaptor Sakura, which I’d read in English not too long before. Being written at a generally lower level helps, too.…

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Maynguh Memories of a Long, Long, Long Time

belldandyBack in high school, ten dollars for a volume of manga (or mayn-guh, as I and many unfortunately pronounced it) was a pretty good deal for my precious allowance money. I could certainly afford more of it than I could American graphic novels, and it was also cheaper per volume than anime DVD’s. However, manga did have one drawback in that they could get very, very long.

I remember looking at the first volume of Ranma 1/2 in a Bookstop outlet, knowing it was popular and liking the first couple chapters I read in the store, and hey – I could buy two or three volumes at a time! At that rate, I’d finish the whole thing  in about a year, and spend over three hundred dollars. For that money, I could buy a new game console, and some games to go with it!…

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