Sporadic Sequential
Monday, March 31, 2008
Dead Manga Walking

From Deb Aoki's coverage of the Dark Horse panel at Sakura-Con '08:
But what also came out in the lively Q&A with editor Carl Horn was a list of some of Dark Horse's critically-acclaimed titles that are returning disappointing sales figures. Struggling titles mentioned include horror/suspense titles Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and Mail as well as Hiroshi Hirata's samurai epic, Satsuma Gishiden.
Also, don't forget, if you want to see Volumes 8 and beyond of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and more volumes of Mail in English, bug your local bookseller to stock them or order these graphic novels online. And tell them Carl Horn send [sic] you!
Two thoughts:
  1. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service isn't selling well? C'mon, people! This is a great horror / mystery / humor manga that appeals to everyone from noted mangaphiles like David Welsh and Shaenon K. Garrity to manga neophytes such as Valerie D'Orazio and Chris Sims! Don't pull another great manga horror series out from under me. (I thought I wouldn't have to worry about beloved books being cancelled before their time once I left superhero comics behind, but it looks like even manga is subject to the same problems of more obscure works getting lost in the shuffle.)

  2. There are more volumes of Mail available to put out in English??? Now that is exciting news, even if it ultimately ends up being frustrating. Based on everything I'd read, I thought Mail had ended with the third volume. I can't find any additional volumes listed on Amazon.co.jp, though. Is it still being serialized in Shonen Ace?
Dang it, I'm not going to be able to read any more work by Housui Yamazaki in English, am I? Darn you, ironic consequences of manga's increasing popularity!

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Friday, March 28, 2008
The New Comics Math

In what appears to be becoming a requirement whenever executives from DC Comics mention manga, Paul Levitz lets loose with this head-scratcher in his debut column at Blog@Newsarama:
Another interesting phenomenon is the difference in concentration between three types of graphic novels; manga, the strongest category in bookstores, seems increasingly dominated by a handful of properties; literary graphic novels (about 5% of bookstore sales and less in comic shops), by a couple of authors’ backlists with no major new hits in ‘07; and genre graphic novels (the strongest in comic shops) seem to spread the readers around to the most titles.
OK, if I'm reading that right, he seems to be saying the popularity of manga is really only due to the success of a couple series (Naruto, Fruits Basket, Death Note, Bleach, etc.). But then he goes on to say that "genre graphic novels" (does he simply mean superheroes by that, or is he using a definition more like Dirk Deppey's "pop comics," which would encompass Vertigo, Image, a lot of the non-manga stuff that Dark Horse puts out, etc.?) "spread the readers around to the most titles," i.e., reflect a greater breadth of distinct "properties." OK, assuming I understood his point, I just have one question Really???

Looking back at Brian Hibbs' Bookscan analysis (which is what Levitz says inspired his current column), I would dispute this. As Hibbs himself noted,
the 575 manga titles [charting in Bookscan's top 750 graphic novels] only [editor's note: only?] represents 140 different properties, if I’m counting correctly
Even though I've seen the raw data Hibbs is dissecting thanks to Rich Johnston, I'll take Hibbs' word for it rather than attempting to group all the individual manga volumes listed by series.

So if "genre graphic novels" "spread the readers around to the most titles," I guess we can expect to see significantly more than 140 properties represented on the Bookscan list, right? Well, that would be tough considering that DC only placed 58 books on the top 750 and Marvel only 37. ("Everything else" accounts for another 72 books, but many of those appear to fall into Levitz's third category of "literary comics.") Even if we count each book from Marvel and DC as its own property, that's only 95 spots. And as Hibbs points out,
There are nine “Batman” titles, seven “Superman” books (counting Superman/Batman as a “Superman” title), five “event” comics tracking (three volumes of 52, Infinite Crisis, and Identity Crisis), and four “Justice League” titles (v1 of the Meltzer run, and all three volumes of the Alex Ross Justice series). The other three DCU tracking books are Kingdom Come, Green Lantern: Rebirth, and v6 of Teen Titans.
So in terms of "properties," "genre graphic novels" would account for even fewer than 95 spots. Given all this, I'm at a loss to explain how "genre graphic novels" expose readers to more titles than manga or literary comics. Wishful thinking? Switching gears to include the Direct Market in addition to bookstores? (Although even then don't the same superhero properties dominate the Diamond charts? So is there really much diversity in the DM?) Technically counting Batman as a "title" distinct from Batman Confidential or the dozens of Batman limited series?

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"You let yourselves get spanked by a freshman!"

As a follow-up to an earlier post, here are some specific examples of how Viz's translation for Slam Dunk differs from Gutsoon's. [Viz's version appears on the left while Gutsoon's is on the right; click for larger, more legible images]

Comparison #1: In the above scene, our hero Hanamichi Sakuragi has just met Haruko Akagi, the girl of his dreams, who assumes he's an athlete due to his physique. Earlier that day, Hanamichi was rejected (for the 50th time) by a girl who had a crush on a basketball player, which led Hanamichi to react violently whenever someone mentioned (or whenever he thought someone mentioned) basketball.

I prefer the Gutsoon version of this scene for several reasons:
  1. Having Haruko say "I think athletic guys are cool" sounds less creepy than "I just love athletes."
  2. The line "All of us athletes do!" is funnier and more over-the-top than Viz's line; it makes it seem like Hanamichi envisions some grand brotherhood of athletes and already views himself as a lifelong member.
  3. "He's recovered!" strikes me as funnier than "He's over it!" plus it also has evokes more sports connotations ("He's recovered the fumble!"; "He's recovering well from his injury!"; "The team is recovering well from their losing streak of 50 straight defeats!")

Comparison #2: The setup for this scene is that Haruko has just asked Hanamichi if he knows what a "dunk" is. Gutsoon's translation does a better job of finding English words that (1) sound somewhat like "dunk" and (2) match Hanamichi's attempts at charades in the panels. (Carpentry? How would anyone confuse "dunk" for "carpentry"?) Also, Haruko's statement that dunks can be so powerful "that the backboard seems like it might shatter" is odd. Isn't it more impressive to tell Hanamichi that slam dunks occasionally do shatter the backboard, as she does in Gutsoon's version?

Comparison #3: The first difference of interest in this scene is that Viz has translated sound effects in the artwork whereas Gutsoon left them untranslated. As someone completely unversed in Japanese, I have to admit that the scenes with the translated SFX do have more impact for me, if for no other reason that the "BAM!" and the "POW!" bring to mind memories of the old Batman TV show. And while I find the line "You let yourselves get spanked by a freshman!" unintentionally amusing, I wonder if it's something a tough-guy 12th-grader would really say. "You let a freshman make a fool out of you!" sounds more natural.

Comparison #4: Finally, here's another example of translated vs. untranslated SFX. I found this one interesting because whoever did the touch-ups did a good job of making the English "CRASH" sound fit the space where the original Japanese SFX was. I did think it was amusing that the one horizontal line was left in so the SFX becomes "CRA-SH" -- I'm guessing the letterer didn't want to remove that line and then have to go back in and redraw the cords of the basketball net.

Again, as I sad before, both translations are perfectly readable: They both convey the same basic information, and there's nothing really clunky or awkward about either translation. And I should point out that I have no idea which translation is more literal or faithful to the original Japanese. So for me the comparison between the two different versions of Slam Dunk highlights how even subtle word choices can impact the overall appeal of a translation. Manga translators around the world, I salute you for your efforts! (I'm now becoming much more conscious of good translations. Last night I read School Rumble Vol.1 from Del Rey and was impressed by the effort the translator put in to remain faithful to the original Japanese while still matching up jokes and references to equivalent English phrasings. Of course, I didn't realize any of that when I was reading the story, but Del Rey's endnotes are very through and informative!)

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Thursday, March 27, 2008
Time To Plan A Family Trip To Toronto

Christopher Butcher posts what may very well be the most beautiful thing I've seen on the internet: A panoramic view of 5000+ in-stock manga titles.

Go to his site to see the full-size photo. (Next I want Butcher to put together one of those 360-degree virtual tours you see on real estate sites.)

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008
If You Read Only One Online Preview This Month, Make This The One!

Viz has put up a 32-page preview of the first chapter of Takehiko Inoue's Slam Dunk. The preview features a limited color palate, mainly striking splashes of red spot color here and there. I remember Gutsoon also did this when they ran the chapter in the Raijin Comics weekly but it didn't carry over to the collections. Did Viz print the preview chapter in color when it previewed Slam Dunk in the December 2007 issue of Shonen Jump? [EDIT: Yes, according to Viz's own press release, the preview was in color in SJ.]

Rukia and Ichigo Haruko and Hanamichi check out the gym.

It was interesting to read this first chapter and compare how Viz's translation differs from Gutsoon's. Both translations are perfectly readable, but there were some spots where I preferred Gutsoon's phrasing over Viz's. Still, even Gutsoon tweaked its translation between serialization in its weekly anthology and the eventual collection, so for me it just highlights how tricky translating can be.

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Monday, March 24, 2008
Deals That Are Out of This World!

It looks like I may blow my tax rebate before it even arrives. While searching for the best deal on the last two volumes of the Scary Book series, I stumbled upon the online shop TFAW (Things From Another World). I'd seen the site before, but it looks like it's been revamped recently. Of particular interest was the "Nick & Dent" section of the site where they're selling "less-than-mint-condition books" for 50% off. There are close to a thousand graphic novels listed, and I'm trying really hard not to go crazy. Some bargain books that I'd particularly recommend:
  • Akira Club for only $14.98
  • Akira vols. 1-2, 4-5 for $12.48 apiece
  • All five volumes of Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man for just $6.48 each
  • Club 9 vols. 1-3 for only $4 each (which is actually 75% off the original cover price! I highly recommend this series, esp. at such a great price!)
  • Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vols. 2-3 2 is $5.48 but 3 is only $3.29
  • Mail vols. 1-2, $5.48 each
  • Museum of Terror 1-3, $6.98 each
  • Nexus Archives 1-5, $24.98 each
The only caveat is I'm not sure how good of condition these "nick & dent" books are. TFAW claims the books "have been handled and have minor dings, scratches, etc. but are still perfectly good as reading copies" but also notes that returns aren't accepted, so buy at your own risk.

If you're worried about getting a book that's too banged up, TFAW also has a big Dark Horse sale going on right now (50-85% off), so, for example, you could get the Club 9 books new for only 79 cents more apiece. And there's also a general 40% off sale on a huge number of items. Plus, you can save even more with one of two coupons that are good through 3/31:
  • $2.99 Flat Rate Domestic Shipping on $25+ Orders with Coupon Code: SHAMROCK
  • $5 off $50+ with Coupon Code: STOUT
Happy shopping!!

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Friday, March 21, 2008
Accidental Appreciation: Kazuo Umezu

In a happy accident, part of my recent Alibris order was screwed up. Instead of sending me volumes one and two of School Zone, one of the booksellers substituted Scary Book Volume 1 for the first book of School Zone. They're correcting the mistake, but I decided to keep Scary Book after reading and enjoying it, which surprised me, since I haven't been very fond of Kazuo Umezu's work in the past. "The Mirror," the first of two stories in this volume, takes up the bulk of the book and is by far the better of the two. It tells the tale of Emi, a vain young girl who loves nothing more than gazing at herself in a large, full-length mirror. One day Emi begins to sense a threatening presence around her, and she tracks it down to...the mirror! Baffled, she exclaims, "But there's no one here!" Suddenly her reflection turns towards her and chillingly proclaims, "Oh yes, there is!" From that point on, Emi's reflection torments her, trying to drive her mad so she can take over Emi's life. How can Emi prove to everyone else that she's the real Emi, not the reflection who has wormed her way into her life?

Unlike the previous manga by Kazuo Umezu I'd read, I found "The Mirror" incredibly effective. Some of my earlier complaints still apply the characters are often stiff and doll-like; the heightened melodrama can be unbearable at times; and everyone's fashion sense is so dated but overall this is a very creepy and unnerving story. Part of this is due to a personal association the story evokes: Our two-year-old daughter loves to stand in front of our full-length mirror and talk to herself, frequently answering herself in different, disturbing voices. But mostly it's due to Umezu's skill at creating an utterly unsettling atmosphere through dramatic lighting, staging, and pacing. Check out the sequence below, where Emi is startled to see her distorted reflection in a storefront window:

Through creative use of shading and exaggeration, Umezu is able to distort the image of a beautiful young girl so that she becomes truly terrifying. (Umezu's Mirror-Emi reminds me of Junji Ito's Tomie in that both creatures transform from the gorgeous to the grotesque so convincingly and effectively that the extreme contrast imparts their horrific guise with incredible impact.)

Umezu also successfully employs several devices that now seem commonplace in horror movies the unseen approach of a shadowy figure behind the protagonist; the slithering emergence of a supernatural force from an everyday object; the extreme underlighting and makes them work on the printed page, which is no small feat given the major differences between the two media. Consider the scene below, where Emi's evil reflection gradually appears in a mirror to spy on Emi at a friend's house:

You don't get the full effect taken out of context like this, but when I originally read that scene, I had that same goosebumpy feeling you get when you're watching a really good horror movie. Omigod, it's appearing in the mirror! Watch out, Emi! Watch out!! (Speaking of movies, the back cover mentions that several of Umezu's manga have been adapted into horror movies. Does anyone know if "The Mirror" has been turned into a film? It has a number of scenes that I think would work really well in a J-horror film.)

The backup story, "Demon of Vengeance," isn't nearly as strong, especially with its "What the--???" ending that comes out of nowhere, but it's still worth reading for the sheer awesomeness that is the image of an armless samurai, holding a sword in his mouth and riding atop a sprinting hillbilly named "Yokel," attacking the cruel lord responsible for his son's death.

Overall, I highly enjoyed Scary Book Vol. 1, so much so that I'm now planning on seeking out the remaining two volumes in this anthology series. I also think I might have to give THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM!!! another look. Wow, I never thought I'd see the day where I was actively seeking out work by Kazuo Umezu. I guess it took me awhile to warm to his style.

As for School Zone 2, it was actually a bit of a disappointment. It started out promising enough, with a young girl trapped between two ghosts and children disappearing into a school crossing sign, but then the book lost its momentum, endlessly repeating the same expository points about the cruelty of children and the sealing properties of mirrors. Boring! I want more gruesome deaths of young schoolchildren at the hands of grotesque ghosts!! Hopefully volume one will see a return to form.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008
Shocking Maid Secrets... REVEALED!!!

Thanks to a kind reader, here are translations for one of the short strips from Kaoru Mori's site:

Can anyone explain what Case No. 6 is a rip-off of?

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The Ugly Underbelly of Maid Cosplay

Digging around Kaoru Mori's website, I came across a section of miscellaneous comics, including several 4-koma strips that look hilarious even though I can't make out what they're saying. There are also some disturbing images proving that not everyone looks cute in a maid costume:

Again, I have no idea what's going on in those strips, but they make me laugh every time I look at them.

What are the chances of these extras being collected by CMX? Does anyone know what they are? Are they dōjinshi or omake from some of her other works?

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BAMM! Bargains!!

Now through 3/27, save $5 off a purchase of $25 or more at BAMM.com (i.e., Booksamillion.com not sure what the extra 'M' is for) with coupon code HORTONWHO. And shipping is free for orders over $25.

Also, BAMM has several volumes of the bestselling Fruits Basket (1-4, 12, 14-15) on clearance for $4 a pop.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Manga Transforms into Giant Mecha Warrior, Decapitates Superheroes with Kinjutsu Flaming Sword Attack in Bookstore Battle

Today on a rare trip to the nearest Borders, I noticed that they'd expanded their graphic novel section from 15 bookshelves to 18. The expansion was entirely to accommodate the growing number of manga titles: All three new shelves were for manga, and the three shelves that had always been dedicated to "everything else" (all your non-manga comics: superheroes, literary comics, etc.) were now pushed over to the very last aisle of that little mini-section of the storenot exactly the primest piece of real estate. Manga also dominated all of the endcap displays in the section, including one labeled "Staff Picks," which was devoted entirely to manga recommendations. Overall Manga to "Other" Comics Ratio: 15/18, or 5/6 = 83% of the graphic novel section.

I noticed something similar in last week's trip to a Barnes & Noble I don't visit regularly: the graphic novel section had expanded significantly since the last time I'd been there, now taking up ten full bookcases (which are larger than the ones at Borders), and the bulk of it was dedicated to manga: seven of the ten shelves held manga, while the remaining three showcased everything else. (The organization of "everything else" was better at Barnes & Noble than at Borders: one shelving unit was dedicated to DC, one to Marvel, and the last to the "indy" publishers.) Overall Manga to "Other" Comics Ratio: 7/10 = 70% of the graphic novel section.

So based on anecdotal observation, I can easily believe that graphic novels continue to be a huge growth category for bookstores. But my experience also leads me to conclude that it's mainly manga that's driving that growth, which makes superhero-focused articles like this one odd to me. Why spend so much ink wondering whether Marvel or DC is beating the other in bookstore sales when Viz and Tokyopop are creaming them both? (My guess is it's because superhero fans who grow up to write for publications like this one can't resist framing their articles as though they were superhero slugfests: "Who'd Win? Marvel or DC?!?" In which case, my other complaint is that "Marvel smashes DC in comics battle" would have been a much better headline, especially with the new Hulk movie on the horizon.)

Anyway, back to my original point: Are others seeing similar Manga-to-Other ratios at their local bookstores?

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More Maid Manga From Mori

Hey, how about that? A DC solicitation that I'm actually excited about:


Written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

CMX. Further exploring the world of maids in English society which she portrayed in EMMA, Kaoru Mori moves slightly forward in time-from Victorian to Edwardian England. When Miss Bennett gets too busy running the pub she inherited, she decides that she needs some help at home. She posts a notice for a maid and young Shirley Madison replies. Shirley can clean and cook as well as anyone - even if she's only 13 years old! As readers have come to expect from creator Kaoru Mori, this one volume collection of short stories is filled with rich period detail, sympathetic characters, and moving stories.

Advance-solicited; on sale July 2 o 5" x 7.375" o 200 pg, B&W, $9.99 US o TEEN
At first I assumed this was one of the two collections of side stories from the "Emma Universe," but according to Wikipedia this is a separate work (which makes sense given the different time period). Still, I can't help but think that if DC proper put out this book it'd be titled something with endless colons like "Emma Presents: Maids Confidential: Shirley"

Related: Sites like Kaoru Mori's personal webpage really make me want to learn Japanese. Oh well, at least I can enjoy all the pretty pictures. (I'm also tempted to replace all the icons on my desktop with these adorable little maid icons.)

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Monday, March 17, 2008
Miserly Manga: It Was A Great Bargain, But Was It A Great Read?

[If you want to skip me bragging about recent bargains I found, click here to jump to the mini-reviews.]

For those of you living in the Twin Cities, you may want to head over to the Har Mar Barnes & Noble and check out their Used Book Sales Annex for some great deals on comics at half-off or more. I was there last week and at first I thought the selection of comics wasn't that great, but then I noticed a display of bargain manga opposite the graphic novel shelf, plus on the other side of the graphic novel bookcase there was a clearance section with at least two shelves of comics, mostly older manga. Best of all, the books on the clearance shelf were an additional 50% off, for an effective discount of 75% off cover price. Here's what I ended up walking away with (cover price / sale price noted in parentheses):
  • Chikyu Misaki Volume 1 ($9.99 / $2.50)
  • Meridian: Traveler Edition: Flying Solo ($9.95 / $2.50)
  • School Zone Volume 3 ($12.95 / $3)
  • ES Volume 2 ($10.95 / $5)
  • ES Volume 3 ($10.95 / $5)
After some coupons and my member discount, I ended up getting all five books for under fifteen bucks. Not bad! I'm trying to remember what else I saw on the shelves. I remember a couple of the Buddha hardcover volumes for $15 apiece; two of the unflipped Oh My Goddess! reissues (volumes 6 and 7); the Mixx version of Parasyte 2 (which I'm wishing I had grabbed so I could compare it to Del Rey's version); Presents 2 (here's your chance to witness the wonder that is Psycho Santa for a mere five bucks!); and a bunch of miscellaneous Marvel and DC TPBs. So I'm not sure if there'd be anything there others would find worthwhile, but it could be worth checking out if you're in the neighborhood.

And here are some quick thoughts on the books:

Chikyu Misaki Volume 1 - I've been curious about this manga for a long, long time especially given the praise David Welsh and Shaenon K. Garrity have lavished on it but, to be honest, I was always scared away by the mega-moé cover. Even so, I was unprepared for just how creepy some of the sexualization of minors is in this book. It starts early in the book with a lingering closeup of the young female protagonist's panties and it just gets more and more disturbing from there. The plot revolves around two girls discovering a Loch Ness-like creature who transforms into a young boy when kissed. When in human form, the creature appears to be about five years old and frequently runs around naked. One of the girls seems all too eager to snuggle with the young boy (whom they name Neo after Keanu Reeve's character in The Matrix), while the other decides to outfit him with a dog collar. Sure, it might be appropriate for a pet, but it's a little unsettling to see a teenage (?) girl leading around a prepubescent boy in what appears to be bondage gear. And the less said about the scene of an adult woman fondling Neo's genitals to see if they're fully functional, the better.

I know all this makes it sound like I despised the book, but I actually enjoyed it despite the many uncomfortable moments. To be fair, the scenes are often played for laughs, and they're staged ambiguously enough to appear innocent if you squint the right way. (Perhaps the scenes are innocent and I'm just overreacting. Still, it's hard to shake the feeling that the scenes were intended to titillate. Seeing that Brigid Alverson and her commenters picked up on the creepy sexual overtones in this book helps me feel like I'm not completely off-base on this.) Assuming you can get past the troublesome material, as I was eventually able to do, the rest of the book features plenty to like: engaging subplots; likable, well-defined characters; and gorgeous artwork. Creator Chris Bachalo Iwahara Yuji turns in some truly stunning linework that is always captivating, even when the situations he's depicting are ones I'd rather not be witnessing.

Will I Continue With The Series? Despite my unease about the suggestive nature of some of the material, there's still enough to like in the book to offset any potential ickiness, so I've already ordered the final two books off Alibris at $5 apiece.

School Zone Volume 3 - It's always a little odd to start out reading a series with its ending, but in the past I've found that strong works can suck you in even when you jump into a story already in progress. (I discovered several series this way, including Antique Bakery, Uzumaki, and Oh My Goddess!) School Zone isn't the tightest work (as this review notes, the third volume wraps up in an all too rushed fashion that suggests a series cancelled before the author could resolve everything she'd set in motion), but it's still got plenty of the cracktastic Kanako Inuki quirkiness I've come to know and love through her other horror series, Presents. For example, book three includes a scene with the headless corpse of a female teacher, blood still gushing from her neck like a geyser, choking the life out of a little girl. (OK, that sounds really, really horrible when I write it out like that, but as always, Inuki infuses the scene with just enough sick humor to take the edge off the horror.) So, while I'll readily acknowledge that this series will likely fall far short of being a horror masterpiece, I'm betting it'll have enough gleefully gruesome gore to make it worth my while.

Will I Continue With The Series? Are you kidding?!? With the promise of even more scenes of sadistically cruel ghosts torturing innocent schoolchildren, how could I resist? The first two books are already on their way from Alibris ($2 each).

Meridian: Traveler Edition: Flying Solo - Haven't read this yet, but I remember Meridian being a favorite out of all the series CrossGen put out, so I'm curious to see how it holds up years later. I remember thinking that Meridian was a series that could possibly appeal to manga readers, but I don't think CrossGen ever marketed it that way. (I think they were too concerned with conquering the Direct Market, and their later attempts to penetrate the bookstore market came as too little, too late.) If nothing else, it should be interesting reading this collection to see early art from both Joshua Middleton and Steve McNiven.

Will I Continue With The Series? Probably not, even if the other volumes were available for a penny like the first one. This purchase was driven almost entirely by nostalgic curiosity, so once that's satisfied, I doubt there'll be any reason to seek out the subsequent collections.

ES Volumes 2 & 3 - I'd read the first volume awhile ago and wasn't that impressed, but I know David Welsh really digs this series, so I thought I'd give it a second look; plus, I remembered my old "Two Volume Test" theory that many manga (including several I now love unabashedly (e.g., Bleach, Yotsuba&!, Akira)) don't really find their legs until book two. I can see what David and others like about this series, but ultimately it didn't win me over. The themes explored are interesting and allow for a complexity not often found in your average manga, but the overall execution of the work felt strangely unconvincing to me. I think this is largely due to the art, which is oddly flat and open. Characters always have the same blank expression on their faces, even during moments of great stress or danger. The effect for me is like watching one of those clunky sci-fi movies you'd see mocked on MST3K: the basic premise is sound, but the performances are so stiff and wooden that the whole thing veers off into unintentional comedy. (For example, the staging of the big police standoff in book two was so ineffective that the scene had me laughing instead of feeling concerned for the main characters.) I suppose the emotionless expressions of the characters could be intentional given that they all have some issues connecting with others, but for me such detached "acting" made it difficult to become emotionally invested in the story being told.

Will I Continue With The Series? Probably not, unless my library starts carrying it with some point.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008
In Basketball, This Is Known As "A Foul Against Humanity"

And now, Takehiko Inoue's Out-of-Context Theatre presents:

Embarrassing Moments in Sports, Part Seventeen:

The Gorilla Moon

How many times has this happened to you? You wake up on the floor of the school's basketball court, and the very first thing you see is the shiny naked ass of a huge upperclassmen staring you in the face! Talk about awkward!! And then you look around and notice... the entire student body is sitting in the bleachers, watching everything! Talk about traumatic!!!

Witness Sakuragi and Akagi's private horror and public humiliation, along with numerous other humorous situations, in Slam Dunk Volume 1, due out in September.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Stay In School! Don't Do Drugs!!

And now, an important message from Shohoku first year student Hanamichi Sakuragi:

This and other valuable lessons such as how to make a layup and who controls the game of basketball can be found in Slam Dunk Volume 3, originally published in 2003 by Gutsoon, soon to be republished in 2009 (est.) by Viz.

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Monday, March 10, 2008
Preorder Price Pressure

Following Amazon's lead, Barnes&Noble.com is now offering a 5% preorder discount on many of its books. Plus, BN.com seems to have lowered its price on many titles. For example, most of Viz's cheaper manga used to be listed at cover price, but now everything seems to be listed at 10% off, which is nice. So for example, a Shonen Jump manga that's already out is now 10% off (ex: Bleach 22 is $7.15) while a preordered manga is 15% off (ex: Bleach 23 is $6.75). It's a small savings, but every little bit helps when you're buying lots of manga!

UPDATE: Astute shopper Amy pointed out in the comments that the lower price on some manga is due to BN.com's current Kids' Sale (not sure how long it runs), not to any long-term change in their pricing for manga. So buy that manga you've been eying before the prices go up again!

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September's Gonna Be Slammin'!

It's going to be a long wait until September 2, which is when Viz will finally be releasing the first volume of their reissue of Takehiko Inoue's Slam Dunk. I originally started reading this series when it was first released in the U.S. by Gutsoon in the pages of their ill-fated weekly anthology Raijin Comics and immediately fell in love. Even after I stopped getting the magazine, I continued to read Slam Dunk in collected form. I can't believe I've been waiting four years for this series to return! I was reading through volume three again last night and now I can't remember what happens next in the scrimmage between Ryonan and Shohoku. (Gutsoon published five volumes of Slam Dunk, but I can only manage to find the third volume in my mess of an office. I know I gave away a couple volumes to try to entice friends to follow the series, but I have no idea what happened to the other books.) Depending on how quickly Viz releases new volumes, I may have to wait until 2010 to see the outcome of the matchup between Akagi and Uozumi! Or I could always subscribe to Shonen Jump and read the monthly serialization. Man, Bleach and Slam Dunk together in one magazine... It's like Viz is slowly putting together a manga magazine designed just for me. (If they add Club 9 I'll be powerless to resist getting a subscription.)

And in other exciting Takehiko Inoue news, September will also see the release of the first installment of the VIZBIG edition of Vagabond as well as the two Vagabond hardcover artbooks, Water and Sumi. (All three are listed as due out Sept. 16.)

Plus, Inoue's other basketball manga, Real, debuts in July, with the second volume out in October. It's definitely a good time to be a Takehiko Inoue fan!

* Viz, feel free to use this post's totally awesome title in your upcoming ad campaign for Slam Dunk. No thanks are necessary, but if you want to send me complimentary copies of Slam Dunk (or anything else by Inoue), feel free!

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Monday, March 03, 2008
Misa-Reading Death Note

[SPOILER WARNING! The second part of this post discusses elements from the ending of Death Note...and beyond!]

First question: Is Death Note 13: How To Read worth buying? After being disappointed in the series' ending, I wasn't planning on getting this, but I saw it in Barnes & Noble the other day and became curious. I flipped through it and it looks like it's mainly a sourcebook for the series, which I don't really care about, but there are some four-panel strips and a short manga at the end of the book which looked like they could be good. Are these alone worth the $15 price tag or should I just wait for it to show up in my local library?

Second question: While searching for reviews of volume 13, I ran across some info that surprised and confused me [SPOILERS! I mean it!!]: Misa committed suicide? So does that mean that wasn't Misa on the final page of book 12 [see scan below]? When I read the book, I assumed that was Misa, a little older, perhaps a little wiser. If it's not Misa, then who the heck is it? Is it supposed to be a character we'd recognize? I read one forum where they said it was just supposed to be some random cultist. If so, then this makes the ending of Death Note even worse than I previously thought it was. If that were Misa at the end, at least it would provide some sort of closure for the character (as well as a tease for possible sequels). And from the way the ending is presented, having it be some random woman is odd, since the reveal of who it is under the cloak leading this group of Kira worshippers is built up in a dramatic way. Plus, it looked like the woman had the Shinigami eyes:

On second thought, I think my rambling about question #2 answered question #1 for me. Pass!

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Comics in the Classroom: Still Controversial?

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has an interesting twist on the increasingly commonplace story of schools using comics as part of their curriculum: They present the article itself as a comic. The art is a bit crude, but there are actually a couple moments that showcase the strengths of sequential art, such as the scene with the shadowy judgmental figures looming behind the teacher who offers the course on graphic novels.

What I found really interesting, though, was how the vitriol against using comics in the classroom erupted right away in the comments. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but after reading so many articles about schools and libraries using comics in their curricula, I thought the idea that comics could be a useful educational tool was more or less accepted now. Judging by the comments, however, there are still many people out there who view comics as subliterate trash. Here are some of my favorite comments:
Comic books have NO place in schools. That should be a 'duh'.

Bwaaaa Haaaa Haaaa. I work in HR and I can scarcely wait for one of these precious little snow flakes to submit their resume in "little comic book" form where their "words are reinforced with images." I can assure you it will find the circular file in record time.
[So everyone who takes a poetry class submits their resumes in verse? Or for that matter, everyone who takes a "traditional" English class submits their resumes as a prose story?]

Talk about the dumbing down of America.

"optionality" is beside the point; comic books have no place in a curriculum. Nevertheless, how long will it be before this muck satisfies the 'literature' requirement?
But for sheer "huh?" factor, I think this has to be the best quote:
I think that the children should be allowed, nay, required to publish pornographic materials in addition to health class, and journalism class, and women in history class so that they understand what it means when it is said that something is demeaning to women, or vulgar, or morally corrupt. They are children after all, and how are we supposed to make sure that they learn everything they need to be adults if we don't expose them to such things now.
Say what?

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Saturday, March 01, 2008
Bleached Artwork Never Looked So Good

Spotted on Amazon: The Art of Bleach, due out Oct. 21, 2008. There aren't many details, but judging by the page count (100 pages), I'm assuming that this is going to be the English edition of All Colour But The Black, something I've been hoping for since I learned about it last November. Not sure how I feel about the price point, though. Twenty bucks for a hundred-page softcover seems a bit steep, especially considering the Naruto art book was a 150-page hardcover for the same price.

In unrelated news, I'm unable to access Viz's site, even when I click links that I know were working a couple days ago. Today all the Viz links take me to a page that says "This page is parked free, courtesy of GoDaddy.com" Apparently this means that "the person who purchased the domain name has not redirected it towards a website." Did Viz screw up their latest site deploy? Or did they take it down for maintenance or an upgrade?

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