Sporadic Sequential
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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