Sporadic Sequential
Sunday, June 29, 2008
The Best Comic Book Movie EVER
(Plus A Pretty Good One)

My wife and I watched Persepolis on DVD this weekend and I feel safe in proclaiming this The Best Comic Book Movie of All Time, Forever and Ever, Amen. It's faithful to the original books without being a slavish frame-by-frame recreation. Creator Marjane Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud wisely take advantage of the animated format to recast certain scenes, eliminate others entirely, and expand in different directions. The result is a film that respects the source material but stands alone as a powerful work within its own medium.

Plus, the experience of reading subtitles while viewing the striking black-and-white imagery is probably as close as a film will ever get to recreating the unique marriage of words and art that result in sequential art.

In other comic book movie news, I also saw Incredible Hulk this weekend and enjoyed it much more than I expected to. In fact, I'd say I liked Hulk even more than Iron Man. Part of it is undoubtedly based on extremely low expectations. After watching the trailers, I wasn't expecting much at all. And although the previews do give away the general storyline of the movie, there are enough enjoyable, unexpected details (including plenty of in-jokes for lifelong comic fans) to make the film worthwhile. (Rather than list them all out myself, I'll just redirect you to Mike Sterling's review, which does a nice job cataloging the high points of the film.)

After watching Incredible Hulk, I have a sudden urge to read some Hulk comics (much as Johanna became interested in reading some Iron Man comics after enjoying the movie). Does anyone have any recommendations for the best storylines set in the classic "Hulk Smash!" era? (And please: collected story arcs only! I don't have the time or energy to track down individual issues.) Should I just start with the Essentials or are those too tedious? Marvel has their list of the "10 Essential Hulk Collections" but most of them look like they feature different versions of the Hulk (smart Hulk, grey Hulk, etc.) Is the Marvel Adventures digest any good?

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Saturday, June 28, 2008
I Cantz Believe That's How She Does It

Over at the Studio Cutie Bleargh, Susie Lee discusses the difficulty of redoing the SFX for the first volume of Gantz. Below is one of the many images she shares to illustrate the painstaking process of removing the Japanese SFX, retouching the artwork, and adding in new English SFX:

Susie also requests, "If anybody finds these interesting, please let me know. I sometimes feel kinda dumb posting these 'cause I figure nobody finds them interesting but me." Consider this my vote for MORE, PLEASE!! I love these behind-the-scenes peeks at wonky process stuff like this.

Also: Does anyone know what that spool-like thing on the subway ceiling is supposed to be?

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Thursday, June 26, 2008
Man, 'Brand New Day' Is Going Off In Some Awfully Weird Directions

OK, this is the kind of superhero crossover event I can get behind:

Junko Mizuno on Spider-Man!!!

Please please please let this be from some crazy anthology of Japanese creators offering their interpretations of classic Marvel characters. After reading Cat Eyed Boy, I totally want to see Kazuo Umezu take on one of Marvel's many misunderstood monsters.

[From Marvel editor C.B. Cebulski, via Heidi MacDonald]

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008
When will Yotsuba&! come out?

When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out? When will Yotsuba&! come out?


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Monday, June 23, 2008
Your One-Stop Takehiko Inoue Shop

Just a reminder that a wealth of Takehiko Inoue material is coming out over the next few months, and Tower.com has the best prices I can find on all of them. But if you're interested and want the best discounts, act soon! Tower's discounts tend to decrease once the book has been released. Here are the current prices as of 6/23:
I've already read Slam Dunk and Vagabond in earlier incarnations, so the book I'm most looking forward to reading is Real. And I still haven't decided if I'm going to get the art books or not. Last year I went a little crazy with the art book buying and now most of them sit on the shelf, browsed through but unread. Sure, they look great sitting there, but do I really need them? I might hold off and hope that the library gets copies so I can at least page through them and satisfy my curiousity.

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Friday, June 20, 2008
Hmm, Maybe I Should Write A Comic Book Based on My Kids

Crayon Shinchan Vol. 1
By: Yoshito Usui
Length: 128 pages
Price: $7.99
Publisher: CMX

What's that old saying? "It's funny because it's true!" Or was it, "It only hurts when I laugh!"? Those phrases — or some mixture thereof ("I only laugh because it hurts to realize how true it is"?) — were going through my mind when I read volume one of Crayon Shinchan from CMX. I'd read several volumes of Shinchan's exploits before, back when ComicsOne was publishing the series, but that was before I'd ventured into the dangerous waters of child-rearing myself. Now that I have kids of my own, one of whom is close in age to Shinchan and at least as headstrong, the humor in the series takes on a whole new perspective. Although I still find Shinchan's antics amusing, I also find myself empathizing with Shinchan's long-suffering parents quite frequently. (The scenes where Shinchan's parents tsk-tsk another misbehaving child, wondering why the parents can't control their child, only to turn around and find Shinchan engaged in even worse behavior hit especially close to home.)

Maybe that's why Shinchan (and other similar series, such as Dennis the Menace and Calvin and Hobbes) are so popular with parents: it's easier to laugh when it's someone else's kids acting up. For such series to work, a delicate balance has to be struck, where the main child is mischievous without becoming entirely malevolent, otherwise readers will tire of following the character. It's also important when writing a child character to make sure that character actually comes across convincingly as a child. Sure, a writer could go for the the interest generated in the extreme juxtaposition of a child that acts like an adult (and Shinchan gets some of its mileage from that effect), à la Stewie from Family Guy, but in doing so you'd lose the dramatic potential inherent in the parent/child relationship. And despite all of his odd behavior, Shinchan is still recognizably and believably a child, which gives the series a richer undercurrent of familial sentiment than it otherwise would and grounds the humor in a way that rings true for those with experience battling raising children of their own. For example, the scene of Shinchan drawing all over his face (and, uh, other body parts) with his mother's lipstick and then defending his actions by pointing out that she draws all over her face with it is the kind of frustratingly overly-literal child logic that renders parents' attempts at reasoning impotent.

I've long since given away my old copies of ComicsOne's versions of Shinchan, so it's difficult for me to offer a side-by-side comparison between the two publishers' presentations. But judging by my old review of ComicsOne's edition of volume one, their book was flipped, so CMX's version will undoubtedly appeal to manga purists. One difference that I did note is that CMX has updated some of the cultural references in the series. ComicsOne also replaced references to Japanese pop culture with reference to American icons, but CMX has further updated the references to be more current. This is probably a good idea, as I doubt that there are too many people in 2008 who would understand why Shinchan and his father are obsessed with Britney Spears as an ideal of female sex appeal. (CMX has updated the references to name Jessica Alba.)

One thing I noticed in my old review was a thought that some readers might be put off by the "simple" or "crude" artwork, a thought that didn't even cross my mind this time. With audiences embracing "crude" artwork in similarly crass-humored series such as South Park and Family Guy, I don't know if this is really much of a concern. Besides, the naive artwork fits the subject matter, as the artwork in Shinchan looks like something a child himself might come up with.

CMX's production values are once again very nice. The only glitch I noticed was a stray panel where several "I"s mysteriously vanished:

Is dropping your "i"s the latest form of text-speak?

Other than that, the book looked top-rate, with eight color pages at the front. A 12-page preview can be found on CMX's site.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

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I'd Like The Power To Post Multiple Blog Entries In A Single Day

Over at the New Yorker, writer George Saunders has a humor piece titled "Antiheroes," which pitches an anti-Heroes TV series where average people think they have superpowers but they really don't. Several of the proposed superpowers are pretty funny, and I think I spotted a reference to an obscure silver-age DC villain in there.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008
Shocking News: Ed Brubaker Can't Read!!!

...well, at least not unflipped manga, that is.

Paul Pope, on the other hand, can not only read unflipped manga, he can also write backwards. So I'm guessing he'd be a natural choice if DC ever decides to launch a Zatanna revival.

(As for Cat Eyed Boy, I'd argue that you don't even have to be able to read it to get plenty of enjoyment from it. As I said yesterday, I haven't actually read the books yet, but just flipping through the two volumes I found enough awesomely grotesque images to make my purchase worthwhile. A day later and I'm still disturbed by several images gleaned from a quick flip-through of volume two's short story "The Promise" that I can't get out of my head.)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Pick of the Litter

I don't often do this, but I thought I'd join the chorus of bloggers recommending both volumes of Kazuo Umezu's Cat Eyed Boy as the PICK(S) OF THE WEEK! I just received the second volume from Amazon today (the first arrived last week), and I haven't even read them yet but just browsing through them I already think they're worth the full cover price ($25 apiece). The design by Ronnie Casson is gorgeous, with bold, striking covers and snazzy end flaps. The second volume has a couple nice extras at the end, including a short appreciation of Umezu's work by Mizuho Hirayama and a listing of key Umezu works (including those put out by other publishers, a gesture I always find classy). But the biggest reason I'm so excited about these two oversized volumes is because, just flipping through them, I've already seen enough disturbing imagery to fuel my nightmares for the next couple months.

And is it just me, or does this

remind anyone else of this?

Separated at Birth: Cat-Eyed Boy and Spider-Eyed Man

So, in summary, yes, yes you should rush out and spend $50 on some 1960s horror manga. 'Nuff said!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Just Say No To Overdevelopment

And now, a public service announcement from Daigo of Fire Company M:

Remember, kids, just because all the cool local governments are doing it, that doesn't make irresponsible urban development right. Please do your part to encourage sustainable city planning. Remember, only you can prevent urban blight!

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Monday, June 16, 2008
What Others Are Saying About Books I've Read But Was Too Lazy To Review Myself

Sometimes it's just easier to react to others' reviews than to start my own...

Bleach 23
- Michelle at Soliloquy in Blue gives the book a C, which is probably a fair grade once I calm down and evaluate matters rationally. So far the Arrancars do seem more goofy than intimidating, and the fight scenes do feel a little boring and stale, especially after sitting through so many of the same types of battles during the Soul Society arc. And what could have been a touching character development moment for Orihime is marred by some completely unnecessary faux-lesbianism fanservice. My only hope is that all the cross-cutting to different characters being tracked by various Arrancars will set up an interesting and intense coordinated attack where our heroes are unable to come to each other's aid. (Davey C. Jones, on the other hand, can't find enough exclamation points to use in praising this installment. And "I don’t know how Ichigo is going to make it out of this one"? Really??? You don't think it'll have something to do with tapping into a previously undiscovered well of strength and/or new ability? And I thought I was a gushing Bleach fanboy.)

Parasyte 3 - Both Carlo Santos and Matthew Brady were a bit bored with this volume, but I thought book three advanced the series in interesting ways. Of primary interest was the ongoing change in Shin's personality due to bonding with Migi. It seems that Shin's humanity is slowly slipping away as the ongoing integration with his parasite causes him to be become more efficient and emotionless. I also liked the development of the government finding out about the parasites and devising a test that will reveal if someone's been infected or not. And as Connie at Slightly Biased Manga reminded me, the media's representations of the "mouth-heads" are pretty hilarious.

Kekkaishi 13 - Isaac Hale give the book a B+ and notices the similarities and differences between the respective opening story arcs for Kekkaishi and that other series about superpowered teenage demon hunters who hang around their school a lot. (I don't really have anything to add to Isaac's review — I just want to remind everyone that they should be reading Kekkaishi.)

Sgt. Frog 15 - Holly Ellingwood at Active Anime clearly enjoys the book, but her review probably won't be much help to readers wondering if they'd enjoy this installment of the series. The bulk of the review is so generic it could apply to any volume of Sgt. Frog. In fact, the review makes me wonder if the reviewer read volume 15 at all. Almost all of the third paragraph is copied word-for-word from the book's back cover blurb, just rearranged in a different order. And the only item not lifted directly from the book seems to be a reference to something that happened in volume 14: "On a recent summer day, Fuyuki’s research led him to another boy, whose situation was eerily like Fuyuki and Keroro’s." That sounds like a description of Encounter CXII "A Midsummer Mix-Up", which was in the previous book.

Myself, I thought Sgt. Frog volume 15 was a fine return to funny frog-like form. The chapter about fukuwarai was hilariously absurd, and indirectly educational, as it taught me something about Japanese culture I didn't know before. The episode with Giroro's kitten assuming human form and taking over the unit was amusing, and we almost witnessed something either very touching or very disturbing (I still haven't quite decided yet). And the two-parter set on Easter Island had a nice message about respecting environmental / historical sites, suggesting that frequently we humans are the invaders that pose the biggest threat to our planet's future.

Plus, volume 15 featured this exchange between Dororo and Keroro which cracks me up every time I read it. I think it perfectly encapsulates the two characters' essential personalities: Dororo, peaceful and concerned, admonishing himself for not recognizing another's pain sooner; Keroro, obliviously self-absorbed, annoyed that his frivolous activities have been interrupted.

Finally, while continuing to Google around, I stumbled upon a review of Honey and Clover so scathingly negative it made me laugh:
Honey and Clover is pulling the garbage out of seinen and shoujo and putting it into the barest shell of a josei, which means we have 1.) conventions that don’t work well together, resulting in a barely-coherent mush of ideas, 2.) no clearly defined audience (in a bad way - who the hell is supposed to relate to these childish nutcases?), and 3.) more clichés/crappiness than we usually have to sit through in something constrained by one genre. Now we get the crap of josei, seinen, AND shoujo? Thank you for showing me something few series dare, Honey and Clover
After reading that review, I wondered: Is Honey and Clover really going for some biting meta-manga satire à la Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga? That would be pretty genius.

(Pretty much all links via MangaBlog)

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Sunday, June 15, 2008
Manga Dads

In honor of Father's Day, I was going to do a post similar to Lori Henderson's, only about all the dads depicted in manga. But after a busy weekend I'm exhausted and don't have the energy to put together a comprehensive post with detailed commentary. So here's a quick list of the fathers I can think of off the top of my head, and I'll ask for your help expanding the list in the comments:
  1. Ichigo's dad from Bleach - Initially Isshin rubbed me the wrong way, but recent revelations have caused me to view him in a new light. I'll be curious to learn more about him as the series progresses, and I think his history could make for some interesting side stories. (I smell a prequel spinoff!!) Plus, it'd be interesting to see how he fared as a single parent after the death of Ichigo's mother.
  2. Yoshimori's dad from Kekkaishi - Interesting because he's so domestic and (traditionally) motherly. I like that he's shown tending to the house and cooking meals. I've often daydreamed about being a full-time, stay-at-home househusband, but then my wife points out that I couldn't just spend all my time surfing the web and reading manga.
  3. Yotsuba's dad from Yotsuba&! - A great dad: funny, loving, and with just the right amount of playful mischief mixed into his parenting style. This is the kind of dad I'd like to be for my daughter (and son).
  4. Shin's dad from Parasyte - I don't think we know too much about him as an individual so far, but he gets major points for holding up so well after witnessing the brutal, horrific murder of his wife.
  5. Light's dad from Death Note - Soichiro is all kinds of cool, the manga equivalent of James Gordon. When Light was so indifferent about his dad's death, only caring that his dad had failed to eliminate Mello for him, I think that's when I truly hated Light and wanted him to fail.
OK, that's all I can muster at the moment, so tell me who I'm missing. Who are the notable manga dads that deserve recognition?

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Thursday, June 12, 2008
It's a Bleach Bonanza!

It looks like Viz thinks Bleach could be the next Naruto in terms of a manga property that can withstand being milked for all it's worth. Here are some upcoming Bleach items spotted on Amazon:

Bleach, Vol. 1 (Collector's Edition) - A hardcover edition of the first volume of Bleach. It looks like it'll have a new cover image, but there aren't any other details.

Bleach Box Set (Volumes 1-21) - Stopping at vol. 21 because that was the end of the epic "Soul Society" arc. The suggested retail price for the set is $150, which isn't that great a discount off the individual volumes. (Basically, it's like getting two of the $7.95 books free.) No details on whether the Bleach Box Set will come with its own piece of furniture. (Could I suggest a Bleach closet/wardrobe with miniature Rukia figure who sleeps there when she's crashing in Ichigo's room?)

Bleach 40th Anniversary, Vol. 1 (Sweepstakes Edition) - 40th Anniversary edition??? Either I'm missing something here, or that's a typo. Tite Kubo isn't even 40 yet, so I don't see how Bleach could be. [UPDATE: In the comments Brack suggested that the 40th anniversary is for Weekly Shonen Jump, which first saw publication in 1968. And since there's also a 40th Anniversary Sweepstakes Edition of Naruto Vol. 1 listed on Amazon, it looks like Viz will be helping parent company Shueisha celebrate this milestone by running the contest in books featuring the most popular characters to debut in Weekly Jump's pages.] And the "Sweepstakes Edition" blurb apparently refers to a ticket inside the book for a chance to win a trip to Japan:

I'm having images of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," only with even bolder colors and more insane sets.

The Art of Bleach - I've mentioned this art book a couple times before but I wanted to list it again.

Bleach SOULs. Official Character Book
- Again, no real details, but I'm assuming this is exactly what it sounds like — a guide to the sprawling cast that makes up Bleach. But will even 328 pages be enough to cover ever single Shinigami, Hollow, Arrancar, etc. from the series?

Finally, Amazon has a Bleach customer community, which for some reason really surprises me. First, I wasn't even aware that Amazon had such a thing as "customer communities," but then for there to be one devoted to one of my favorite manga series just boggles my mind.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Manga Sneak Peaks

Hey, did you know that CMX offers extended previews of some of their manga? Neither did I, but here's a 8-page preview of Kaoru Mori's Shirley and a 12-page preview of Crayon Shinchan Vol. 1.

And speaking of sneak peaks, Viz has a preview up for Akira Toriyama's COWA!, which looks pretty interesting. I like the gag of monsters playing "Angel Tag" and scaring each other by being too nice:

It's like a more manic, cartoon version of Little Vampire or Scary Godmother. Guess I will be buying this after all.

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Monday, June 09, 2008
Cute or Creepy?

In my (slowly) ongoing quest to expose myself to more shojo, I finally got around to reading Honey and Clover, which I'd pre-ordered ages ago based on the recommendations of Dirk Deppey and David Welsh. Both were right in their descriptions of the series as simultaneously silly and sweet, but there was one thing their summaries didn't prepare me for: The appearance of JonBenét Ramsey among the cast of college-aged students.

Okay, okay, according to the book, the character's name is Hagumi Hanamoto, and she's supposedly eighteen, not eight. But everyone in the story acknowledges that she looks much, much younger than her actual age. (Note that in the panel above she's referred to as a "little person" and a "little girl.") Yet two male characters fall in love with her at first sight, which is a bit creepy when you realize that what they're seeing are the features of a young child.

Worse yet, the story repeatedly infantilizes Hagumi, showing her playing with dolls and being carried around on the backs of male characters like an exhausted child. Hagumi is also silent most of the time with a dazed look on her face, which makes her look like one of those dolls that scare the crap out of you when you come upon them in the middle of the night. When she does speak, it's in simple, clipped sentences and her vocabulary is that of a child's. When was the last time you heard a college student use the words "yummy" and "tummy" when conversing with a peer?

I thought perhaps I was overreacting so I came back to the book the next day and re-read it to see if it was as bad as I remembered now that I knew what to expect. If anything, the second reading was even worse, because now I noticed things I'd glossed over the first time, such as the way Hagumi's admirers fetishize her long lashes and tiny, childlike hands. Further, the fact that Hagumi is purposefully drawn like a child was driven home by the flashback where Yuta reveals why he's not very fond of Christmas. In the flashback, Yuta is drawn like a child and he looks just like Hagumi does in the present:

Matthew Brady (who is probably Honey and Clover's biggest booster in the entire blogosphere) addressed the moe aspect of Hagumi's character directly, and he seems to think that creator Chica Umino is intentionally using the moe motif to explore some its more problematic aspects. According to Brady, Umino recognizes that the impulses that drive the moe fetish aren't healthy and we're meant to be disturbed by how Hagumi is portrayed. It's an interesting interpretation, but I don't get that vibe from the book itself. I agree with Matthew that Hagumi's "stunted development and impaired personality" are unhealthy, but I don't see the book sharing that position. When Yuta or others comfort or coddle Hagumi like a child, it's depicted in a way that suggests we're supposed to approve of their actions. And when characters fall in love with Hagumi, onlookers don't question the appropriateness of such affection; instead, they are awed by the fact that they just witnessed the exact moment someone fell in love.

Anyway, I was curious enough about where the series is going to reserve the next two volumes from my library, so we'll see if the creepiness of Hagumi's portrayal persists. There's still plenty to enjoy in this series, especially when it focuses on other cast members, such as the lovable rogue Morita and the kick-ass "Iron Lady" Yamada. But, man, just seeing those pages that Matthew scanned in of Morita kissing Hagumi CREEPS! ME! OUT! so I'm not sure I'll make it much further with this series.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008
Daigo, The Firefighter Without Fear

Don't you love it when a recommendation works out? Last month I was wondering what other manga series I should be checking out, and Katherine Dacey recommended Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M. I was aware of the series, as it was the focus of the last ever (guest) Overlooked Manga Festival, but I'd forgotten about it, so Kate's recommendation spurred me to check out the first volume from the library. One book and I was hooked. It's a fun story about a brash young firefighter named Daigo fresh out of the academy who's finally achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter. Only he's been assigned to a station that hardly ever sees any fires, and all the other workers seem like slackers. Daigo butts heads with his co-workers, chastising them for not being more enthusiastic about their jobs. But when the fire alarm does go off, everyone at the station undergoes a transformation before Daigo's eyes, becoming utterly serious and focused. And when the time comes for Daigo to enter a burning building, he freezes up, suddenly panicking and having flashbacks to that traumatic event from his childhood when he was a young boy trapped in a raging fire. Will Daigo be able to overcome his fears or will he be paralyzed by them? Will his own personal experiences with fire — which in the past had always motivated him to become a firefighter — now prove to be a liability?

As you can probably tell, I'm very interested in seeing where this series is going. I'm fascinated by series where the main character has to overcome personal fears to achieve his goal, perhaps because they're so rare. Right now Vagabond is the only other series I can think of where the protagonist has to overcome debilitating fears so strong they cause the hero to break out in cascading waves of cold sweats. Usually the hero of a shonen manga is so confident that he runs the risk of becoming unbearably cocky.

I was also won over by the art style, which has a kind of loose, casual grace to it. And this time I had no problem figuring out which superhero artist the style reminded me of. In fact, I swear Klaus Janson adopted a Japanese pseudonym and illustrated this book:

"There are seven working defenses from this position.
Three of them disarm with minimal contact. Three of them kill.
The other -- makes this really cool KABOOT sound!"

The only drawback with this manga is that it looks like Viz is letting it fall out of print. I had difficulty finding any bookseller that had all twenty volumes of the series in stock. (Viz doesn't have any of the volumes on its site.) I was finally lucky enough to find a complete run on eBay and snatched it up, but it may be hard for others to find every volume, and I hate to recommend a series that would be difficult to track down. I'd check and see if your local library has any of the early volumes to sample and then if it is something you're interested in buying, I'll sell you my set once I'm done with it your best bet may be the site DiscountAnimeDVD. They currently offer a bundle of the first ten books for $70 and they have almost all of the later volumes in stock (except vol. 13) for 25% off. Plus, they offer free shipping on orders over $99 and they're also running a 35% off sale on a bunch of other manga, included great series like Emma, Love Roma, and Genshiken. (I've never ordered from them, so I have no idea how good their service is, but their BizRate ratings seem fairly positive.)

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Funny, I Don't Remember Any of These Characters from Wizard's List

Inspired by this (which was inspired by this), I tried to assemble a list of my picks for Top 25 Manga Characters. Of course, what I really came up with is a list of My 25 Favorite Manga Characters, presented here in the order they occurred to me:
  1. Rukia (Bleach) - Oh, Rukia, how I love your decisive, commanding spirit. Just don't ever cave in and roll over to die again just because it's the honorable thing to do, 'kay?
  2. Ichigo (Bleach) - To be honest, Ichigo is in danger of becoming a cipher in his own series, since all he ever seems to do anymore is grimace and fight. But looking back at the beginnings of Bleach, it's obvious that Ichigo has what it takes to be a great, memorable character — the seeming street tough who has a soft side and still manages to get good grades — but that potential still needs to be actively developed, otherwise it's just a wasted opportunity.
  3. Natsumi (Sgt. Frog) - Whether she's breaking the bones or the hearts of our amphibious alien invaders, Natsumi represents Earth's last, best hope at continued freedom. The fact that she's a fiery-tempered, red-headed teenage girl with a penchant for physical violence only makes me glad I'm not in the Keronians' shoes.
  4. Keroro (Sgt. Frog) - The incompetent, self-absorbed leader of the Keron Invasion Force, Keroro would rather engage in gunpla than military maneuvers. His dishonest, untrustworthy, self-serving tactics should serve to alienate him from everyone he knows, but somehow he manages to charm his way back into everyone's hearts.
  5. Dororo (Sgt. Frog) - The pacifist alien ninja, the invader who feels more at home at the planet he's supposed to conquer, the cool secret agent who still gets depressed when his ungrateful friends abandon him — Dororo's many contradictions continue to intrigue me.
  6. Giroro (Sgt. Frog) - The resident weapons and military strategy expert in Keroro's troop, Giroro finds himself helpless in the face of the one threat he didn't train for: the battlefield of love. Can he bring himself to conquer the Pokopenian female who has captured his heart, or will he be vanquished by his conflicting loyalties?
  7. Miyamoto Musashi (Vagabond) - Another compelling mass of contradictions, Musashi is a warrior who wants nothing more to be "invincible under the sun" but who still frequently experiences overwhelming fear and panic in the midst of battle. Often described by his fellow villagers as a "wild beast," Musashi is also capable of great compassion and sensitivity. In a strange way, I admire Musashi's lust for life, even if his quest means that his life won't be a long one.
  8. Tokine (Kekkaishi) - Like Rukia, Tokine is a spiritual warrior whose talents are often overshadowed by her flashier, more forceful male counterpart, but in the end it's generally the women who are holding things together by thinking things through.
  9. Yoshimori (Kekkaishi) - It took me a long time to warm up to Yoshimori, but I'm finally starting to appreciate his positive traits, such as his loyalty and his overarching desire to protect his friends from harm.
  10. Kei (Akira) - Easily the most competent character in Akira, Kei keeps the cast from becoming completely annoying. Plus, I'm a pushover for a strong woman in androgynous jumpsuits.
  11. Emma (Emma) - The epitome of quiet resilience, Emma shows a silent strength that carries her through the trials and tribulations of serving the stiff upper class in Victorian England.
  12. Skuld (Oh My Goddess!) - A pure ball of energy, Skuld is the quintessential youngest sister, always sticking her nose in her older sisters' business but at the same time trying to assert her independence. Skuld's inventions are also a great source of amusement, as none of her marvelous technology ever seems to work quite as intended.
  13. Urd (Oh My Goddess!) - Sure, she's part demon, but Urd only uses her dark powers for mischief, not out-and-out maleficence. Most of the time she's really just trying to help, even if her efforts mainly seem to benefit herself and inconvenience everyone else.
  14. Reiji Akiba (Mail) - I'm a sucker for a mystery man in a trenchcoat, and Akiba is as enigmatic (and effective) as they come.
  15. Yotsuba (Yotsuba&!) - The most adorable thing in black and white and two dimensions.
  16. Shinichi / Migi (Parasyte) - Surely it's not cheating to count them as one since they share a body? I'm really enjoying the struggle Shin faces as he tries to hold on to his humanity while also becoming more integrated and efficient with his Parasite.
  17. Sakuragi (Slam Dunk) - The perfect example of a lovable lunkhead. Sakuragi's pig-headed persistence undoubtedly frustrates everyone else around him, but his frantic flailing about is the frequent source of comedy gold from the reader's perspective.
  18. Nausicaä (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) - To be honest, my memories of Nausicaä are a bit hazy, but I remember her being a likable, capable, dignified protagonist. And even though she's one of them liberal environmentalist tree-huggers bug-huggers, Nausicaä is a skilled fighter, on land or in the air. Plus, as the precursor of Miyazaki's pattern of strong female protagonists, Nausicaä deserves special recognition.
  19. Haruo (Club 9) - Sigh, how I miss Haruo's unintentional, backwater charm. Innocent and irrepressible, "Miss Hello" is like a more tolerable version of Forrest Gump.
  20. Hoshino (Love Roma) - A guy so open, honest, and transparent, everything he says is bound to embarrass his girlfriend [see next entry]. Yet, despite his lack of social graces, Hoshino can be utterly endearing, perhaps because he so frequently forces you to look at everyday things in a completely new light.
  21. Negishi (Love Roma) - The not-so-long-suffering girlfriend of Hoshino, Negishi is in many ways his opposite: Emotional, prone to physical violence, more hesitant and tentative in her feelings and beliefs. Yet this is one of those cases where you really do believe that two very different individuals truly complement each other rather than it just being a forced, clichéd case of "opposites attract" bad romance writing.
  22. Nico (Sexy Voice and Robo) - Nico is Velma if Velma had been allowed to be cool. Reading Nico's adventures, you can almost believe that a teenager could travel the country and solve crimes.
  23. Sho (The Drifting Classroom) - Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list. Initially I couldn't stand Sho's bratty behavior and constant shouting, but his gradual maturation into a clever, decisive leader in a futuristic wasteland showed that sometimes it takes the stubbornly strong-willed to get through terrible times.
  24. Michael (What's Michael?) - Not so much a character as a collection of feline archetypes, but I love this comical cat no matter what form he takes.
  25. Near (Death Note) - Of all the talented misfits in Death Note, Near is the one I find most compelling. I know many fans never forgave Near for replacing L, but I thought Near had much more dramatic potential than his revered predecessor. Perhaps it's because Near not only had to contend with Kira, but also had to compete and/or cooperate with his bitter rival Mello in order to solve the case. Near also seemed to have better organizational skills, commanding the underground SDK unit in the midst of global chaos.
Some additional thoughts:

» Despite the oft-repeated mantra that "it's the characters that give a manga its heart!" several of my most beloved series (e.g., Short Cuts, Uzumaki) aren't represented on the above list because they don't really have any breakout characters. Instead, the manga wins readers over on the strength of its concept or art or some other combination of factors. I think Dragon Head is an example of this. As much as I enjoyed the series, it's really more a story about the events than its characters, who, to be honest, are a bit bland in retrospect. Perhaps this is intentional, so that readers could project themselves onto the mostly blank slates of the leads. (If it weren't for Kei, I'd almost include Akira as another example of this. To me, Akira is notable for the world-building and storytelling prowess on display, while the character development is almost nil.)

» Many manga series benefit from a strong ensemble cast. For some series, the ensemble is so tightly knit that it's hard to pluck out one or two standout characters that "make" the series what it is. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Genshiken, Flower of Life, and Azumanga Daioh are all like this. While the assorted cast members are all entertaining and memorable, there isn't really one that stands out on his or her own. Each character needs the others to play off of. Even in series with standout leads, such as Bleach or Sgt. Frog, there is often a very large supporting cast that can either prove daunting or rewarding, depending on how it's juggled.

» When I was dreaming up the list, there were a number of pairings that were almost impossible to split up in my mind: Ichigo and Rukia, Yoshimori and Tokine, Hoshino and Negishi — in all of these cases, the loss of one member from the duo would irrevocably change the dynamic of the book.

» In contrast to what a list of of my favorite Marvel and DC characters would look like, the manga version of the list doesn't contain any bad guys. Is this because manga generally shy away from the black-and-white good vs. evil dichotomy prevalent in superhero comics? Is it because manga portray villains more sympathetically, with ambiguity and complexity? Is it because, as every shonen manga teaches us, your greatest opponent is always yourself?

» Based on several of the above points, I'm wondering if there's a difference in way character appeal and series loyalty is generated in manga vs. Western superhero comics. Because superhero comics run for decades under multiple authors, there's more time for the main characters to build up little personality quirks that fans find so endearing. Manga, on the other hand, are usually finite and the vision of one author, so there's less opportunity to graft on additional detail if the initial concept isn't catchy. Is this why many manga series seems to have a pretty well-developed supporting cast from the get-go — to cover their bases in case readers don't latch on to the main character? "You didn't care for our hero? OK, well, here's another great character with a completely different set of winning traits that we just know you're going to love!!" (Hmm, in the case of Kekkaishi, Tokine probably held my interest in the series until Yoshimori could grow on me.) With Western superhero comics, however, the supporting cast is often underdeveloped and can drop off the face of the earth at any time (especially when a new creative team comes on board), so it makes sense that under that model you'd put more of your eggs into one basket. (I wonder if there's any correlation between those runs on superhero comics that are considered classic and the depth/breadth of the main hero's supporting cast? Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Frank Miller's Daredevil, Neil Gaiman's Sandman... those all had pretty well-developed supporting casts, didn't they? Maybe that's what more superhero comics need, rather than bigger and brasher mega-crossover events.)

» Finally, I'm clearly a sucker for certain character types, especially females who fall into the dark-haired, strong-willed, spunky-spirited category. At this point I could probably generate an outline for a manga I'd find irresistible. "Scene one: We're introduced to our female lead, a kick-butt, no-nonsense martial artist with an idiosyncratic outlook on our modern society..."

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Monday, June 02, 2008
My Wife Just Doesn't Understand Me

My wife and I went to see Iron Man last night (short summary: it was OK, but I found it a little weird how ruthless Iron Man was. Yeah, his enemies were Evil Terrorists, but it's still weird to see a superhero burning people to death with huge flamethrowers. Also, that last scene of Tony Stark at the press conference had Mark Millar written all over it.) and one of the trailers was for the "special event" Bleach movie, which led to this brief, sad exchange:
Me: "Ooooo! I have to see this!!"
Wife: "You're not serious, are you?"
My only possible conclusion: Apparently, the genius of Bleach doesn't come across in a short, 30-second spot. Must encourage wife to read all twenty-three available volumes of the series so she can share in the joy that is Bleach.

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