...how could I let this slip past me?
New from Criterion:
While doing research for an article about machine translation, I happened to remember a piece of trivia: The biggest and most authoritative Japanese-English dictionary out there is affectionately referred to by its patrons and maintainers as the "Green Goddess", thanks to its binding and its sheer size. At some point, I keep telling myself, I plan on dropping money for an electronic version of this divine behemoth, but for the time being I'll stick with EDICT and the freeware that one can use to search it with. EDICT probably isn't anywhere nearly as complete or authoritative as GG, but it's hugely handy for the kind of quick-and-dirty lookup that you might need when translating a web page or the like.
One of the contributors to and editors of the most recent edition of the GG, Tom Gally, has a website with some wonderfully fascinating notes about the dictionary, specific entries, and books about language that have caught his passing fancy. Another great time-killer.
Well, I've had to bulldoze most everything and start from scratch — for the second time in a row — but I think I'll have a smoother road going forward from here than I did before. Again, I'm going to be emphasizing my writing projects and new stuff rather than migrating the legacy content, but some of that will come back in over time when I can find the time to do it. I've got a lot more going on in my life, and in a good way, than I did even a year ago, so naturally some things are going to take a backseat.
Somewhere in the middle of the sixth volume of Monster I was hit with a wave of feelings that I’m not used to experiencing from a manga. It was something akin to what Roger Ebert talked about when he described a truly great movie as an “out-of-body experience.” You’re not simply reading the story. It’s happening to you, connecting with you on a primal level that doesn’t require analysis.
I’d read Volume 6 before, when I sat down withthe first eight volumes and burned through them all in one sitting. On re-reading it, though, I wound up feeling far more than just the initial rush of fascination for the story. The world that Naoki Urasawa has created here, and the characters he’s populated it with, they envelope you completely and become your world too. Read more
I am, I confess, of two minds about Bride of the Water God. As a romance it’s only middling, but as a visual spectacle, as a slice of Koreana (so to speak), it’s lovely and lush. The beauty and poetry of the presentation — and the poetry’s both visual and verbal — do make up in great part for the shortcomings in the story.
The premise, as set up in the first volume, lends itself to any number of romantic complications. The “bride” of the title is Soah, a young girl who has been sacrificed by her village to the water god Habaek. Much to her surprise, instead of ending up dead, she finds herself in Habaek’s domain surrounded by a whole pantheon of other gods. Among them is Habaek himself, who manifests in two forms — a snooty young boy, and a handsome adult who calls himself “Mui.” And to make matters worse, there are ongoing behind-the-scenes feuds and bits of internecine politics that Soah is now a party to. Read more
Now here’s a premise for you. What if, after the events in Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Count Dracula had fled to Meiji-era Japan — that is, the 1880s, right when the country was just experiencing its first wave of Westernization? Why would he go there, and what would he encounter?
So goes the concept for Dark Wars: The Tale of Meiji Dracula, by Vampire Hunter D author Hideyuki Kikuchi. And a more fitting author for the job, I could scarcely think of. The D books were a brisk fusion of gothic horror, SF, fantasy, and samurai/wuxia movie tropes, and never failed to entertain. Dark Warsmixes gothic horror ‘n action with a generous dose of Japanese history and local color, and wraps it in a fast-moving story.Read more
It’s fascinating to discover all the different ways a given franchise can be implemented, and Blood: The Last Vampire has been put through its paces pretty aggressively now. What started as a 50-minute feature has been turned into a standalone novel, a forthcoming live-action feature — and now a new TV series, with a few manga and a novel spun off from that in turn as well. Each iteration of the story has its own particular flavor, for better or worse — and in the case of the novel Night of the Beasts, it was definitely for the worse.
Blood+, the manga by Asuka Katsura, may have been derived most directly from the TV series but it deviates from the show about as much as it’s also faithful to it. The basic setup is the same, but it’s played off in a markedly different way — different enough in some aspects that it almost counts as its own separate story. But it also touches on many of the same conceits as the TV show, even if it doesn’t arrive at them in quite the same fashion.Read more
A nice bit from Timothy Egan at the Times about the pleasures of reading and printed books, even in the digital age. He also takes time out to swipe at the probably-erroneous stats about who reads and who doesn't, and gives a little uplift as well: "[Reading is] fad-resistant, precisely because human beings are hard-wired for story, and intrinsically curious." (My favorite quote from the comments: "Forty percent of Americans do not vote. Does that mean that we have no elections in the United States?")
The one thing I can be compelled to spend money on without thinking too hard about it is a book. Granted, writing for AMN has made it possible for me to not have to shell out as much money for some of the books I'd want to read — but that's only freed me up to pursue a nearly-bottomless well of other bookish fascinations. Most of them center around Japan or a few of my other fields of deep and abiding interest (movies, music, etc.) — and anything that I don't keep, I can usually give away to someone I know who'll benefit from it.
The notion about "hard-wired for story" — that's something I'd love to see a neurologist or another scientist comment on. I suspect there's a lot of truth to it; we respond more strongly to a narrative of some kind than we do a dry recitation of fact. There's just something about a narrative that makes the synapses light up in a way that's heavily primal, both in the sense that it addresses something primitive in us collectively and that it plugs into something that reminds us of the way we were when we were young (that is, if we aren't already young to begin with).
The downside of that, of course, is that we're also prone to believing in narratives that may be enthralling on their own terms but have no connection with reality at all. Sometimes this is innocuous, like SF/fantasy/anime fans who talk about a given character as if he/she/it were real. Sometimes it's far less so, like the person who believes he's being watched by government agencies and tapes tinfoil over his windows. The idea of our lives being stories that we tell ourselves is something that was touched on in Why They Kill; small wonder I come back to that book a great deal. (There's a great deal in it that I'd like to embody in a story someday, but I haven't yet reached the point where I could talk about it coherently.)
Back when I read the first volume of Andromeda Stories I noted that any series that begins with the creation of the universe probably has no small amount of ambition in mind. The second volumefollowed suit and raised the bar even further. And now that I can see them in context, all three volumes of Andromeda Stories have not just been shooting for the moon or the stars but for the next couple of galaxies over. Anyone who’s into epic manga storytelling — and I do meanepic — needs to pick this series up from the beginning; they won’t be let down. If anything, they’ll be left wondering why most other manga never aim this high.
The first two volumes introduced us to a world being overrun by the Enemy, a machine civilization that assimilates all who come under its domain. Against them stand a few pockets of human resistance, including the two heirs to a kingdom long since subsumed by the machines: Prince Jimsa, and his twin Affle. The two were raised without knowledge of the other in radically different circumstances, but have now at last been brought together by chance. Jimsa feels strangely drawn to Affle without quite realizing why, but his twin doesn’t return the sentiment — not until they realize they’re empathically connected. What one feels, so does the other. Read more
First off, the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD thing. There's scarcely a warm body drawing breath by now that hasn't heard the news: Toshiba's thrown in the towel, and HD-DVD is soon to be an abandoned technology. I banked on Blu-ray as of last December or so, and I'm grateful I made the "right" choice — but at the same time I'm worried about where all those players and discs are going to end up. With any luck there will be some kind of recycling or reclamation program to make sure all that plastic, polycarbonate and metal doesn't simply end up in landfills. (If anyone knows of such a thing, tell me about it and I'll post it here!)
Obviously the next step after this is disc media vs. downloads, and to some degree it's already been tilting in that direction (see my column at InformationWeek about this very issue) — but I still think solid-state manufactured discs are going to be a bit more immediately useful, especially where video is concerned. (Come on, Criterion, let's have some HD titles! Bring on Ran and Days of Heaven!)
Books: I most recently finished Rohan Koda's Pagoda, Skull & Samurai as my last bit of extracurricular (non-work, non-anime) reading. I didn't like it as much as Samurai Banner, unfortunately (same publisher); the author's style seems to be deliberately and heavily reminiscent of the formalized, long-monologue style of a stage play. It gets wearying after a while, even if the subject matter he approaches in these three stories was right up my alley. Best if you're already a die-hard fan of Japanese history, like me, but not really for the casual reader.
Also read, but not yet commented on: Yasushi Inoue's Lou-Lan, a collection of shorter pieces in much the same style and approach as Tun-Huang, but there are a couple that stand out explosively. My favorite: "The Rhododendrons," a portrait of a truly sad and pathetic man who has thrown his whole life away for the sake of his work. "Man was meant to work furiously to the end," he writes. "What else? Not just to bask in the sun. Not just to be happy." It is work which gradually reveals itself to be nothing more than a systematic way for him to hide from the messiness and bustle of life, to deny himself the joy he feels he does not deserve.
(I'll post a longer review of these books if time permits, but the way things are tilting most of my free time for reviews is being taken up by AMN work — for now, the capsule summaries will have to do.)
I still haven't been able to iron out that weird Movable Type publishing issue, so for now I'm just going to work around it and post anyway. Onward!!
A bunch — and I do mean a BUNCH — of stuff arrived from Vertical for review. I'll probably be busy some portion of the long weekend reading and getting that stuff written up. It's all good material: the new Guin Saga book, the third and last Guin Saga manga volume, the final installment of Andromeda Stories. Plus, I have a bunch of other books in the offing which haven't arrived yet, but which I've got to stake out a fair amount of time for when they do show up.
The surest sign of an avid reader is a book pile that never gets any smaller. That or a fool who has eyes bigger than he has spare time.
The Blood+ DVD set has also landed on my doorstep, which is going to get a fairly high-priority review. A few people I know have turned up their noses at the show (since it's airing on Adult Swim), but I found myself liking it, especially since it expands nicely on the mythology that was set up in Blood: The Last Vampire and which really never got a fair shake at being expanded.
Work continues on
The New Golden Age — er, The Four-Day Weekend, just very slowly. The official site hasn't been updated in a bit and the formatting's a tot messed up, but I'm going to post an update there and clean it up by the end of February. I know a lot of people are looking forward to this — both existing fans of Summerworld and folks who've heard about it from others — and it needs to be done right from start to finish. I'd like to have at least a chapter sampler that I can call finished by the time summer rolls around, but there will be a finished product by autumn, one way or another.
Some more new stuff that's been in the playlist recently:
Blade of the Immortal is shaping up to be one of the best arguments I’ve seen against living forever. There’s always a cost involved, and it’s usually not only paid in flesh and blood but spirit — and spirit is the one thing you can almost never get back. I remember reading Fritz Leiber’s oft-anthologized short story “The Man Who Never Grew Young,” about an immortal who experiences time in reverse, and is doubly estranged from the rest of the human race — both because he will outlive (or is that “outdie?") everyone around him, and because he has only the oblivion of being “unborn” to look forward to.BotI’s not quite that despairing — thank goodness — but the more we see of Manji the unkillable ronin and his female sidekick Rin, the more the idea of never being able to let go of life seems like a dread curse.
“Curse” is the best description for what’s happened to Manji. As punishment for evils past, he’s been condemned to live until he can claim the lives of one thousand wicked men. If he’s wounded, the countless thousands of parasitic worms that inhabit his body will stitch him back together, although they can’t replace the eye he lost before he was thus infected. They also can’t protect anyone else, which is always the downfall of an immortal — and so he wonders what kind of rotten luck he must have had to become partners-of-a-sort with Rin. She’s a young women out to avenge her father, and Manji’s reluctantly agreed to help her get justice … if only because it sounds like a convenient way to get the bad guys to come to him and get him off the hook all the sooner.Read more
An article in the Times about Japan's rare-and-getting-rarer iriomote. (Fans of Azumanga Daioh, take heed!)
Perhaps it’s a little unwieldy to start talking about a series just as it’s concluding its U.S. print run — but in Golgo 13's case, this last volume isn’t really the “end” anyway. It’s just the closing of a window that might someday reopen in the future.
Golgo 13 is as iconic a manga as you could ask for. Since Takao Saito created the character and the series in 1968, he and it have become cultural staples with something of the same heft and breadth in Japan as James Bond. A hitman-for-hire who never misses and only needs one shot to take out his target, Golgo’s identity and origins were cocooned in mystery: he did his work and went. Cross him and you’d take a bullet, too, one aimed with the same deadly perfection.
As the series progressed, Golgo receded further and further into the background of the story, becoming more like Sadako or Shonen Bat — aforce that blazes out in a moment of crisis — than an actual protagonist who drives events. The books themselves have gone on to sell a staggering 200 million copies in 142 volumes, making the series eligible to sit in the same Neverending Story Hall of Fame as Guin Saga (120 volumes and counting) and Kochi-Kame (131+), whose own hero bears a weird resemblance to a cheerier-looking Golgo.Read more
The older I get, the more I think there are few joys in life greater than the joy of knowing you’re not alone and few agonies greater than being abandoned — or abandoning others by choice.
Small wonder I responded to Volume 9 of Berserk so strongly, and not only because the previous eight volumes have established this series as being as violent on the emotions as it is in every other respect. Like Takehiko Inoue’s outstanding Vagabond (currently being reviewed by my colleague Eric Fredericksen), Berserk creator Kentaro Miura paints on such a broad emotional canvas that he seems to be hellbent on cramming whole lives into the pages. Life, love, sex, violence, death, transgression, redemption — it’s all here, on a scale and in a scope that puts so many other comics to shame.
The one life that Miura’s most determined to get into the pages is that of Guts, his (anti)hero — now alone again, having walked away from the only “family” he’s ever known, the mercenary Band of the Hawks. Their leader, Griffith, was determined to keep him amongst them, but Guts fought his way free, just like he fought his way into the group. Read more
Dear Yasushi Suzuki,
I hope you’ll forgive me.
I’m writing this to you today not simply as a critic, but as a fan — someone who saw your book The Art of Yasushi Suzuki and instantly began plotting how I could get you to sign it. I saw what little there was to be seen of Purgatory Kabuki at that time and could barely make myself wait for it. An underworld samurai fantasia dressed up in a painterly visual style — how could I say no to that? And so, finally, the Purgatory Kabuki book hit my doorstep and I opened it up … and I wondered if the wrong name was on the cover.
The problem with Purgatory Kabuki is, I think, that you can’t put together a manga the same way you put together an artbook. It’s a heck of a good try — I give you all the credit in the world for hard work — but I can’t ignore the fact that what we’ve ended up with here falls horribly short of the mark. You took some truly marvelous character designs and visual concepts, but executed them in a sketchy, indistinct way, then buried under shifting layers of murk and obscured them with angles so oblique I felt like I needed a compass to figure out which way was up. Read more