Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Quick Comic Comments: Manga Edition

Kekkaishi: Volume 11 - A full, meaty volume. I thought Tanabe did a good job addressing different characters' reactions to Gen's death, and there was definitely progression in the two camps' battle plans. And this was the first volume where I actually found myself liking Yoshimori, in part because Gen's death makes him appear more vulnerable and sensitive, but also because Yoshimori finally takes the initiative in training (even if he's not very organized in the way he goes about it) and in engaging the enemy. (I won't spoil what he does, but Tanabe executed one of my favorite "headstrong hero" stock moves.) Only downside: the return of My Evil Pony! NOOOOOO!!!! Wasn't he destroyed or something? No fair that these Ayakashi can regenerate so easily!

Alive: Volumes 1 & 2 - I'd forgotten that Katherine Dacey-Tsuei sent me the first volume of this series months ago. I finally read it the other night and then tracked down the second book the very next day. Alive is an absorbing entry in the "students merge with nefarious aliens and gain extraordinary abilities" genre (see also: Parasyte, Shadow Star, Alien Nine, Q-Ko-Chan). Writer Tadashi Kawashima keeps the action moving along quickly and does a good job of creating suspense and uncertainty without ever lapsing into lazy obtuseness substituting for mystery. Yes, two volumes in and we're still in the dark about what's causing these abnormal events (mass suicides and superpowered killers), but things feel like they're progressing rather than spinning their wheels and dragging things out. For one thing, Kawashima does a good job of showing us multiple perspectives on the events, and he's effectively juggling a fairly large cast (it seems like new characters are introduced almost every chapter) without it feeling overcrowded.

But perhaps the biggest draw of this series for me is the art by Adachitoka, whom Kawashima describes in the afterword as a "rookie artist" with "great talent and potential." I'm unaware of any other manga series Adachitoka has worked on, but to me his work looks like that of a seasoned pro. His character designs and figure work are strong, and I'm impressed by his striking panel layouts and page compositions. For example, this page where Taisuke Kanou witnesses a girl falling to her death right in front of him really stuck with me:

Adachitoka is equally adept at displaying comedy moments as he is at horror and action, so he's a perfect fit for this series that shifts tones quickly and frequently.

[Throughout the first volume, I was trying to place which American artist Adachitoka's style reminded me of. Pat Ollife? Kano (circa Action Comics 2000-2001)? An early Marc Silvestri? I was never able to pinpoint who he reminded me of, and by the second volume such comparisons didn't even occur to me. Is it just me or do these mental comparisons pop up in anyone else's head when they're exposed to an artist's work for the first time? A similar thing always happens to me when I go to see live theatre: During the intermission I turn to my wife and rattle off which TV and movie actors the cast members remind me of.]

Azumanga Daioh: The Omnibus - I just got this today and barely started reading it but I already love it. It doesn't have the same energy and incredible charm as Kiyohiko Azuma's other work, Yotsuba&!, but the four-panel format is surprisingly effective: it's really easy to settle into a rhythm reading the strip and just let the character-based comedy wash over you. (In a way, it's like watching a pleasant, diverting sitcom, only here the fourth and final "gag" panel takes the place of the laugh track kicking in every few seconds.) Recurring thought while reading the collection so far: What would Josh Fruhlinger say about these strips?

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