Overlooked Manga Festival!
Submitted by Shaenon Garrity on January 31, 2008 - 21:07
Last one for a while. But first, I should note that this week's Chronicles of William Bazillion is the most brilliant thing in history ever.
Also, if you're in the Bay Area this weekend, you can see me speak at this Friends of Lulu event at the Berkeley Library. I seriously have no idea what I'm going to talk about, so it should be entertaining.
Okay, I've got nothin' else going on, so let's move on to Part Two of the latest Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event!
First, though, I want to stress that I am not suspending the Overlooked Manga Festival because I've run out of overlooked manga. Okay, maybe I have reached the end of obscure and unpopular manga that I, personally, want to talk about right now. But I've only scratched the surface of the overlooked manga still out there, waiting to be discovered and loved. As proof, just look at all these OMF recommendations by people who are probably much better read than I am. Thanks to everyone who wrote to me with their favorite manga...
Reader OMFs, Part Two
William G (thewilliamg.blogspot.com)
It's unfortunate that very few of Leiji Matusmoto's works made it into English. The man is absolute genius.
The very best of his works was the original Captain Harlock. Set in a future where humanity has become so complacent that a miles-wide alien artifact destroying much of Tokyo doesn't seem to concern folks, only space pirate (The best kind of pirate) Captain Harlock is willing to make a stand against them.
It's the best sort of space opera. Where the bad guys are unapologetically bad, have overwhelming numbers, and are utterly incapable of taking down a rag-tag group of heroes that just happen to have the most noticeable ship in space because they can't shoot straight.
Where science doesn't get in the way of science fiction. If a flag wants to fly in the vacuum of space, then we let it! Can we cross the galaxy in a few weeks without having faster-than-light travel? By god, yes! Should your near indestructible super spaceship come equipped with a giant switch-blade?
Who could argue against that?
Where there are beautiful women with a dark pasts, brash young pilots who can't wait to get the bad guys, and a stoic know-it-all sporting a cape and collar so popped it becomes something beyond "Style."
I mean, look at this:
But this is an overlooked MANGA festival, not an overlooked anime festival. And if you're looking for Harlock, or anything by Matsumoto, then I have both good and bad news for you.
If you happen to speak Spanish, French, or Japanese, the internet tells me that there are a number of volumes of Captain Harlock available for your reading pleasure. But if you're limited to English, Shaenon tells me there were five volumes of Galaxy Express 999 put out by Viz back in the day. And while I have never read them, I'm willing to bet the good captain and his crew make an appearance or two. Mastumoto was never one to waste a good character design.
Fly under the banner of freedom, and popped collars, my friends.
Dave White (741.5 Comics)
I used to love Astrider Hugo, of which Radio Comix published all of two issues. Horribly derivative story, but man, did it have some stunning art.
Yukinobu Hoshino's 2001 Nights and The Two Faces of Tomorrow are just incredible--easily the best hard S.F. comics you'll ever read. Tremendous stories, great art, and sadly both long out of print. [Shaenon's note: Dark Horse reprinted The Two Faces of Tomorrow in 2006, so there's still hope!]
Kaoru Shintani's Area 88" was one of the first manga that ever caught my attention and I love to just read random issues, even today. I mean, this is the comic that gave us an aircraft carrier on tank treads and an underground missile with a big drill head on the front of it. What's not to love?
Takahashi's Mermaid stories never get much love, but they're some simple, affecting horror/action stories. A lot darker than the stuff that's in InuYasha and a lot more effective.
Yukito Kishiro's Aqua Knight tends to be thought of as "that series he did in between the two series of Battle Angel, but I thought it was an fascinating attempt to merge a modern adventure story with a very allegorical medieval-style romance. And the art, of course, is just gorgeous.
For that matter, how about Battle Angel Alita: Last Order? Half the people I know who loved the original series don't even know that there's a new series still coming out.
Masamune Shirow's Orion tends to get ignored because it's not science fiction, but the fantasy trappings allow the reader to recognize that most of what Shirow writes is just plain gibberish and not some sort of expansive techno-futuristic vision that's over your head.
Antarctic Press's Star Trekker (long out of print because of, shall we say, copious legal problems) sounds like fanfic, but it plopped some completely out-there characters into the "Star Trek" universe and just ran with the implications. Good fun.
The second volume of Shotaro Ishinomori's Japan Inc. is worth reading just to see how badly a comic can fly off the rails. The gentle economic parables of the first series give way to cynicism, nihilism, and sunspot theory and it all concludes with two people making love, superimposed over a shot of Buicks and lemmings hurling themselves into sunspots. Just utterly bizarre.
I have two manga recommendations I'd like to add--and I'll try to be brief (which can be hard for me lol). The first is Keiko Takemiya's Andromeda Stories. For whatever reason this classic title isn't getting the online and critical presence that even Vertical's last Takemiya translation, To Terra, got (which wasn't much...). I think part of the problem is many people seemed disappointed by To Terra--I think more for what they were expecting than what they got. I loved it, but admit that its stylistic mix of an epic story with brief drop-ins on the characters took a bit of getting used to (it makes sense that the recent tv anime adaptation filled in all these spaces with much more standard storytelling--which made it for me less interesting).
Anyway, those people deserve to give Andromeda a look as I think, while being another epic, it also has greater character development and emphasis on the characters. It shares qualities with Terra E, being Takemiya's immediate follow up to that manga in Shonen Gakuen (and later the unisexual Duo magazine), from 1980-1982, but manages to be a more intimate story, that somehow successfully manages to mix the sci-fi (with some several of the same themes as To Terra--telekinetic youth, different alien races and the danger of computers and machines taking over) with fantasy, and mediaeval elements--which may be the influence of Ryu Mitsuse, the Japanese sci-fi great (Takemiya has called him one of her biggest influences and Moto Hagio has adapted several of his stories) who came up with the original story outline for Takemiya. While, like Terra, it can be argued that technically this is a shonen title, all the classic shoujo elements of a master like herself are there--I simply don't find the emotional experience I get from reading classic 70s/early 80s shoujo from any other comic or manga I've found. Add to that gorgeous, retro shoujo art of the highest calibre (maybe less immediately striking than the streamlined panel layouts of Terra, but more detailed--as Takemiya was evolving into her more masculine, later style) and one of the most genuinely creepy and eerie depictions of evil robots and machines I have EVER seen (the robot colonies have this H. R. Giger quality that I find really disturbing). Truly an important manga that I think anyone with an interest in the genre, its history, and potentially ever seeing more early shoujo classics get a release here needs to purchase and read.
It's interesting comparing what I know (from the few translations, fan sites and Japanese volumes I own) of Takemiya and what I know of my favourite manga-ka, and her old best friend, fellow 49er Moto Hagio. Both seem to write and be interested in the exact same genres--namely philosophical sci-fi and European period pieces with a hinted or strong shonen-ai basis. Takemiya seems to take these ideas in a more lurid, pulp direction, when Hagio's stuff kinda transcends that (compare Hagio's November Gymnasium with Takemiya's Kaze to Kino Uta, or Hagio's A, A' or They Were 11 with To Terra). That's not to say I find Takemiya any less enjoyable (hey if I didn't like melodrama I wouldn't be a classic shoujo fanatic) and I love the comparison and contrast of the two women's works.
It's frustrating that the audience that seems to have, finally, realized that Tezuka's titles are important and really enjoyable works that deserve an audience here and deserve to be read by anyone interested in manga hasn't clued into to these shoujo masters (who I honestly prefer to Tezuka) the same way. Ten years ago, as a young teen just fascinated by the Japanese used volumes of Kaze to Kino Uta, Poe Family, etc that I'd buy and examine without fully understanding them, I never expected to see any translations. It's exciting that some of these titles are now finally getting published (I found out about To Terra from a tiny Entertainment Weekly review, in fact, and had to do a double-take to make sure it was the Takemiya classic). If I ever win a million my dream would be to translate a handful of important titles by Hagio, Takemiya, Tamagishi, Ikeda, Akimi Yoshida and Oshima Yumiko just to get them out there. (I hope Vertical tries with at least one more title--I think they could at least make some real impact with the comic press in general, partially from controversy about the themes told, from going all out and adapting something like Hagio's beyond brilliant, and provocative Cruel God Reigns and its tale on the damages of male sexual abuse.) I met Takemiya at a UBC discussion she did last fall, but she didn't seem too optimistic about any of her other titles being translated (becuase of its subject matter I don't have much hope for the melodramatic brilliance of Kaze to Kino, but I'd love to see one of her smaller relationship dramas like the London bohemian story Spanish Harlem be worked on...).
*ahem* sorry about that...I promised to be brief, I know... My other title is one that I have a harder time defending. It's Minako Narita's 80s shoujo bestseller (well, in Japan, anyway) Cipher, from CMX Comics. Like Swan (which I adore) and Eroica With Love (which hasn't really captured me), this is another odd and random CMX choice, but one I'm thankful for. Looking up the few reviews on it online it seems a lot of people lost interest with the first volume and I have to admit that volume has some of the worst, hard to follow manga translation I've encountered. But I'm glad I stuck with it, not only does the translation improve drastically, storywise the manga has become perhaps my guilty favorite, the volume I look forward to the most every three or four months.
The meandering plot is hard to summarise but is bascially the interactions of a girl who discovers that a crush at school is actually a twin, who share two identities (the twins are the teenage TV stars Siva and Cipher). The manga is quintessential mid 80s shoujo silliness. Set in 80s New York (and later L.A.), it touches on gang problems, cocaine addiction, murder, and of course, even incest with the two brothers, but somehow it's all done with a light, charming and even slapstick style (and this depiction of New York in the 80s makes Banana Fish feel like a documentary). I'm not quite sure why it appeals to me so much (besides my love of the 80s--and the authors notes where she draws caricatures of the characters dressed up as her fave bands of the era--and mine--like Duran Duran, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys and Cocteau Twins who eventually did the music for an OAV of the series) but I think it's the characters and the feeling of the retro, oh-so-80s art and style that just makes it a pleasure to read, and slowly discover more and more about these odd but endearing characters. A manga I never expected to love but one I do and I think deserves more attention.
Anyway, there you have it--I'm not sure how you feel about either of these titles but I hope they don't get lost in the manga shuffle. (God, I can remember as a young teen how I bought anything and everything that looked even remotely shoujo, and gobbled it up. Now nearly every title released looks the same as another title to me and leaves me with little interest... I guess that's a good thing for manga in general--that there's so much out there, I just hope that it leads to more diversity, especially of the 49er classics...)
Matthew J. Brady (Warren Peace Sings the Blues
Long time reader, first time emailer. I love your Overlooked Manga Festival entries, and I've got one to add as a reader contribution: Saikano. It's an apocalyptic action/romance about a guy whose cute, clumsy girlfriend has been turned into a cyborg killing machine, with metallic angel wings, retractable machine guns, and everything. But it's really more about growing up and learning about relationships, with some fairly explicit sex scenes and a lot of angst. By the end of the seven volumes, you get pretty wrapped up in the story of these two young lovers and the results of the epic war that is going on around them. I don't know if it's for everybody, but I certainly dug it.
Sabrina (Comics Village)
My personal favorite overlooked manga (in not particular order):
1. The Big O. It's a great post-apocalyptic-mecha-warrior-psychic romp through a world that has lost its memory. Even though it combines some of the most trite and tired old plot concepts, it is still amazing. Sadly, it's also recently out-of-print. For shame, Viz, for shame.
2. Voices of a Distant Star. Why no one ever reads this manga is beyond me. It's beautiful. A girl is being sent deep into space and is separated from her "boy"friend by an increasing number of light-years. The only method of communication they have is cell-phone text messages, and even traveling at the speed of light, they take years to arrive. It's simply a masterwork.
3. Kindaichi Case Files. This mystery series is quite excellent, even if the art is kind of...stiff, to say the least. The episodes (one mystery per volume) are plotted out meticulously, and each volume is a joy to read.
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Anywhere But Here
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
OMF Special Event: My Legacy
OMF Special Event: An All-Star Tribute to Carl Gustav Horn
Guest OMF by Jason Thompson: 888
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Flower of Life
OMF Special Event: Top Ten Lines from the Excel Saga manga
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part One
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part Two
Comics Underground Japan
Bambi and Her Pink Gun
Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga, Part One
Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga, Part Two
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
OMF Special Event: Reader OMFs, Part One