Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, July 24, 2008
My Most Memorable Midyear Manga

Jinx! Cross-site blogging telepathy!! I was just thinking this weekend that this year has been a good one for manga so far (despite all the gloom and doom) and was toying with the idea of doing a half-year in review feature. Of course, like most of my ideas, I never got around to following through on it, but then the fine reviewing cast over at Manga Recon put out their midterm manga report card looking at notable manga from the first half of the year, and it inspired me to share my Five Favorite Manga From 2008 (so far):
  1. Real by Takehiko Inoue - Once again Inoue shows that he is the master of crafting lovable louts. As with both Hanamichi Sakuragi (Slam Dunk) and Miyamoto Musashi (Vagabond), I'm not sure I'd want to hang out with Real's lead Tomomi Nomiya, whose antics in this volume include stripping naked and taking a dump on the steps of his former high school, but I sure love to read about him. I really enjoyed seeing the core cast of characters come together in this volume. They're not all likable, but they're distinctive and interesting. And as can be expected with any manga by Inoue, the art is simply gorgeous, but here it really shines thanks to the better quality paper used, which showcases the soft greys and delicate textures used in the toning work.

  2. Cat Eyed Boy by Kazuo Umezu - This two-volume set is an interesting, imperfect work. Many of the stories give the impression of something created without much of a game plan (which might not be that far from the truth, given the nature of manga serialization) but they all remain captivating nonetheless. Even the weakest of the tales is satisfying on some level, be it a promising suggestion of some larger theme, a general sense of nightmarish dream logic, or Umezu's unsettling creature designs. In many ways Cat Eyed Boy reminds me of early Marvel comics: Reading them now, the stories can seem dated, even crude, but there is still the glipse of genius buried somewhere within. And like many of Marvel's misunderstood heroes, Umezu's title character is hounded by the very people he defends. In fact, Cat Eyed Boy has it even worse, for he is despised by both humans and monsters. (Cat Eyed Boy is probably most reminiscent of early Namor in terms of appearance (those pointed ears!), attitude (although Cat Eyed Boy generally helps humans, he can also turn on them when he tires of their cruelty; in one story, he disupts several trains as payback for a train destroying the shack he was living in), and origin (like Namor, Cat Eyed Boy is the offspring of two races but the citizen of neither).)

  3. Emma 7 by Kaoru Mori - Mori's gripping Victorian romance comes to a close in a satisfyingly open-ended manner. Rather than ending on the promise of "happily ever after," Mori shows that William and Emma will continue to face significant obstacles if they choose to remain together. Even more interesting, Mori shows us the impact William and Emma's decision has on those around them, especially William's family. Although we of course want William and Emma to end up together, it's interesting that Mori takes the time to show us that their actions have definite consequences. It's also interesting that Mori's presentation results in William's father coming across as sympathetic and understandable. Usually in these types of dramas the parents blocking the cross-class arrangement are caricatured as heartlessly evil, but Mori adds complexity to the father's motivations (and background), and the result is a much more layered and nuanced work.

  4. Shirley by Kaoru Mori - Another wonderful maid manga by Mori, this single-volume work focuses on the relationship between a young unmarried female bar owner and her thirteen year old maid. The stories are quiet and simple, and leave a surprising amount unsaid. (I'd assumed this form of elliptical storytelling was intentional, but in the wonderfully amusing and informative afterward, Mori suggests that in many of these stories she'd simply dropped the ball, forgetting to resolve or return to various plot points.) The art in these stories is simply beautiful, with Mori employing a softer line than she used in Emma, and I was surprised to learn that these stories predated Emma. In fact, in the omake at the end, Mori is very critical of her early artwork, pointing out the many flaws she sees. I suppose early work is always embarrassing to artists (especially ones with a perfectionist bent), but I thought the stories and artwork were both quite strong.

  5. Cowa! by Akira Toriyama - A fun done-in-one diversion, Cowa tells the tale of Paifu, a half-vampire, half-werekoala monster child and his mischievous friends. It's an extremely light book, but it's done in Toriyama's delightfully charming style, with plenty of amusing details to make the read a pleasantly satisfying one. (I especially liked Paifu's transformation into a full-fledged werekoala and what it took to calm him back down again; I laughed every time Toriyama used that gag.) I suppose the biggest compliment I can give this book is I was extremely disappointed to learn that there were no additional volumes forthcoming. I really wanted to read more about Paifu and his gang of friends.
Not a bad list, and I was focusing just on new or concluding series, so that's not even counting all the ongoing series that are consistently entertaining, such as Bleach, Kekkaishi, Sgt. Frog, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and Parasyte. Plus, there are still plenty of upcoming manga works to look forward to, such as Black Jack, Bat-Manga!, Slam Dunk, and the VIZBIG edition of Vagabond, so 2008 looks like it will be a good year for manga. And if I expand the scope to consider all comics, there are plenty of other great books that have already come out (such as Little Vampire and The Rabbi's Cat 2) and even more forthcoming works to look forward to (Aya of Yop City, Alan's War), so my end-of-year list is practically writing itself. (NOTE: I just jinxed the possibility of my ever completing a best of 2008 list at year's end.)

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