This may sound paradoxical, but I have more fun writing about the hard sell than the easy sell. The easy sell, I almost fall asleep at the keyboard: Great series, but you know that, you’re probably buying it as I type this, zzz. The hard sell, I have to actually talk about the thing, instead of just remind people of what they probably already know.
So it goes with the Guin Saga Manga — the comic adaptation of one of the later books in the Guin Saga series, currently being released in paperback to what I hope will be a receptive and enthusiastic audience on this side of the Pacific. The manga, a three-volume cycle that covers a side story set much later in the Guin timeline than the novels we’re currently seeing, doesn’t require that you read any of Guin to understand what’s going on, but it does enhance the experience all the more. I still encouraged people to go out and snap up the first book sight unseen if they wanted a taste of something off the beaten path, and the second graphic novel keeps up the same level of exotic fascination. Read more
The first volume of Andromeda Stories dreamed big, took big risks, and got away with all of them. Here we had a far-future saga of man vs. machine that bristled with more creativity and wonder in its first book than many other manga do through the whole of their run. Now comesVolume 2, and I have the distinct feeling that if anything I might have under-rated this series. The second volume is even more adventurous and daring than the first — which means that if my math is right, the third volume will most likely cause my eyeballs to melt. There are worse ways to go, if you ask me.
Andromeda Stories (originally published from 1980 through 1982) was the brainchild of Keiko Takemiya — she of another outstanding space-fantasy epic, To Terra… — and noted Japanese SF author Ryu Mitsuse. It probably sounds like an unlikely collaboration from the outside; what would a shojo manga creator and an SF author be doing pooling their talents? But if you’ve read Terra, the parallels ought to be obvious: throughout Terra, you could sense Takemiya’s native fascination with the way SF can be used to make larger statements about identity and the place of the individual in the universe. I picked up strong parallels with another female SF luminary, Ursula K. Le Guin — in fact, for those familiar with Le Guin, Andromeda bears some vague thematic resemblances to her Hainish Cycle stories, although Takemiya and Mitsuse are unmistakably doing their own things with this work. Read more
Dominion dates back from 1986, but I don’t mean “dates” in the sense that it’s “dated.” In fact, it’s probably one of the better things Masamune Shirow has done: it’s relatively easy to follow, funny, spirited, and doesn’t confuse story with mere ideas.
The problem I’ve long had with Shirow is that while he’s a fantastic visualizer and has thrown away more ideas than most people ever have, he’s been a pretty scattershot storyteller. Or, maybe better to say that over time he’s subordinated storytelling to simply throwing big uncooked lumps of ideas at the reader, and most of his best work is not really his but rather the work derived from his core concepts. Case in point: Ghost in the Shell. The original comic is actually only okay, and its follow-ups are virtually (pun intended) incoherent. It’s what other people have done with the idea that have really shone. Mamoru Oshii’s two films were dreamtime meditations on the ideas and characters brought up in the book, but it was Kenji Kamiyama’s TV series and subsequent movie that really kicked the whole thing up to the level where it deserved to be. Read more
1979 was a pretty good year to be a fan. Look at what was in theaters: the first Star Trek movie; Alien; the animated Lord of the Rings flick. And there was an even bigger kick waiting for us in the bookstores — the first installments in this awesome new fantasy series about this warrior with the head of a leopard.
No, wait. That last bit didn’t happen — at least, not here. But oh man, how I wish it had.
The copyright page of Book Two of The Guin Saga tells me: Originally published in Japanese as Koya no senshi by Hayakawa Shobo, Tokyo, 1979. There’s something intimidating about discovering that one of the best fantasies of 2008 was published in 1979 — and all us poor suckers in the English-speaking territories are just now finding out about it. Read more
There’s got to be a way to talk about Tanpenshu #2 without scaring you all off.
Think about it from my side, that’s all I ask. I’ve been trying to get this review written for two days, and I’ve shot more blanks than a whole class full of third graders with cap guns. “Just go get the book,” I was tempted to write. “Just go and expose youselves to this fire-eating, heart-unclogging piece of power, because it burns the b.s. right out of the soul, and anything that does that in this world is something to cherish and defend.”
That’s why I had such great things to say about Apollo’s Song and MW and Abandon the Old in Tokyo, which all hurt. Hurt like being slapped by someone you loved, right after you’d blurted out something unbearably careless and hurtful to their face. So — and you can see the dilemma by now — Q: Why then would anyone want to subject themselves to it?
A: Because of what you are when you come out the other side.So goes the theory, anyway. In practice, most people are not interested in giving themselves an aesthetic scourging that they’re not being tested on later. This is why Merzbow does not routinely outsell Shakira, and the first volume of Tanpenshu didn’t hit the New York Times bestseller list (which is a crying shame). Read more
The great thing about Real/Fake Princess, for me, has been how it has kept the complete courage of its convictions. The bare outlines of the story are fairly standard romance fodder: a man and a woman, each one fiery and independent in their own ways, grow closer together during a shared crisis and discover love. There’s a billion romance novels with this plot, but how the plot is played out makes all the difference, and R/FP somehow, amazingly, never manages to make a wrong step.
The final volume of the series takes everything that has been building through the course of this story and pushes it all the way to the conclusion it deserves. I could not ask for more. It gives us the “real/fake” princess of the title, Zhi Li, now in hiding from her enemies in power, and reunited at last with both Wu and Hui Tang — both of whom she has powerful and conflicting feelings for — in a rebel encampment. There is a fair amount of other plotting swirling around them during this last volume, but the really important stuff involves Zhi Li and the two men in her life, and that’s what I’ll focus on here. Read more