Back in my review of the last Gunsmith Cats omnibus, I figured out what makes this series such a blast: the contrasts. The Cats stories take place in an action-movie universe of guns, cars, computers, bombs, babes, and dudes, where you’re likely to learn on one page how much torque you can squeeze out of a ’67 GT500 — and then have that bit of technical fetishism followed up with a scene where a guy snatches a rocket-propelled grenade out of the air. Realistic? No, but since when has this been a problem?
The third Burst book kicks off with Rally Vincent replacing her beloved Shelby 500 GT (blown up in the last book) with a different but equally-appealing V8: a vintage Cobra, refitted to within an inch of her life and armored out to boot. In trueGunsmith Cats form, trouble manages to follow Rally even during a test drive: while out taking the Cobra for a spin, she runs afoul of a possible bounty and gives the Cobra a patented Rally shakedown: how well does it handle after someone’s put a few bullet holes in it? Read more
If you read the fourth Gunsmith Cats anthology and complain that it’s “unrealistic” or “improbable”, my response to you will be to yank the book out of your hands, smack your pinkies with it (it’s heavy, be warned), and give that volume along with its three predecessors to someone more deserving of its charms. Grousing about the laws of physics being broken in a Gunsmith Cats book is like complaining that McDonald’s French fries are too salty.
Actually, that’s one of the charming things aboutGunsmith Cats — Kenichi Sonoda spends such effort grounding the story in a nuts-and-bolts reality of cars, guns and machines that when he breaks the rules, it’s more like he’s just expanding on them. And yes, at the heart of it, a series this fundamentally over-the-top deserves to be read with a crooked smile on your face. Read more
Back at the end of last year a friend of mine bought me Coffin: The Art of Vampire Hunter D, a massive collection of Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations for Hideyuki Kikuchi’s long-running novel series. I’m not using the word “massive” figuratively here: the book is big enough to cover most of my desk, and could probably stop a .22 when sheathed in its slipcase. Since I’m a massive fan of all three topics — D, Kikuchi and Amano — this was about as perfect a gift as I could ask for. It’s now enshrined in the little permanent collection of artbooks, about three feet to the right of me where I sit typing this.
Yoshitaka Amano: The Collected Art of Vampire Hunter D is probably going to get filed right next to it. It’s not as physically imposing a volume — it’s roughly trade paperback size — but it runs to just south of four hundred pages, and more than makes up in scope what it doesn’t have in dimensions. It’s a gorgeous survey of the remarkable body of artwork that’s been created for this franchise — one which we’re only just now beginning to see here in English-speaking territories. Granted, Amano’s artbooks have been long available before as imports — I had a few of them myself at one point, but stupidly let them go when money got tight; what was I thinking? — but a whole surfeit of them have been showing up as domestic pressings. And now everyone who didn’t haunt bookstores like Kinokuniya or Sasuga can find out what all the screaming has been about.Read more
Comedy’s hard to get right. Science fiction as comedy is no less difficult, either — but when done properly, it’s also a hoot.
The Dirty Pair Strike Again is a mix of pulp SF tropes, slam-bang action, and broad comedy, in about equal proportions. Yes, it’s about as deep as a pie plate and as intellectually nutritious as an afternoon of A-Team reruns, but it’s darn funny, and with me funny goes a long way.
If the name Dirty Pair rings bells, it should. Haruka Takachiho’s novel was the basis for the animated TV series, OVAs, theatrical film, and English-language comic series (courtesy of Studio Proteus). This is actually the second book in the series — I’ll most likely double back to look at the first one — but from what I can tell you scarcely need to have read the first one to get up to speed.
The heroines, Kei and Yuri, may call themselves the “Lovely Angels” after their signature spaceship — but their superiors on the Worlds Welfare Work Association (and their hapless victims, er, clients) have another name for them: the Dirty Pair. If the other troubleshooters on the WWWA’s staff are surgical instruments, these two are a wrecking ball. On their last mission, they torched the bad guys — and the good guys, and everyone else who just happened to be lying around in the vicinity. But hey, omelet, broken eggs, you know the drill.Read more
It actually doesn’t take a lot to make me laugh. Give me a comic with a funny premise, and chances are I’ll be doubled over in my seat. A manga with a funny premise is only half the story, though — you have to actually follow through on the setup.
The genius of The Wallflower, judging from the last three of its fourteen or so volumes, is that it starts with a good premise and follows through on it mercilessly. The setup is just the beginning; the payoffs are riotous. Read more
Japan’s Taishō era, so named for its emperor then, lasted from 1910 to 1925 — a time obsessed with death and downfall. Suicide pacts, madness, and perversity filled the popular culture of the era, as documented in places like Edogawa Rampo’s mystery novels, and real-life disasters like the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 only further hammered home the darkness of the age. The era also sported a distinct and lush visual aesthetic all its own, and modern-day cultural cultivations like Lolita-Goth and visual kei arguably have their roots in the Taishō-era look (and its decadence) as well. It’s one of the most criminally underused periods in manga and anime, if only because it bursts with endless visual tropes and thematic undercurrents that fairly cry out to be put to use.
You now know one of the biggest reasons I was immediately enthralled by Nightmare Inspector: the atmosphere. It’s set in a gorgeously manga-fied Taishō-era Tokyo, where streetcars rattle dismally up and down the steamy avenues, mercury-vapor lamps barely cut through the haze and street signs and movie posters are all written in the same elegantly spidery script. In a rundown, out-of-the-way teahouse, an improbably handsome young man named Hiruko holds court, with only the maidservant as his occasional company. Hiruko is a baku, a “dream-eater” in human form, and those who come to him for aid are plagued by nightmares that only he can dispel. He can do away with the nightmares, but at a cost … and typically that cost is the torment of having to relive the nightmare and discover its true, often soul-jarring meaning. Read more
Always a good feeling, to open the second volume of a series and see that it’s leaps and bounds above the first volume. And I wanted that to be the case with The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls: it’s based on a novel by a criminally-undertranslated Japanese author, Fûtaro Yamada, who’s probably more responsible for the modern pop-culture mythology of the ninja than any other literary party. The first volume, though, was terribly slow to get off the ground, and reveled in a kind of fetishistic ugliness that made it really hard to enjoy. It was all set-up, and not much pay-off.
The second volume, however, leaps from set-up to pay-off in a major way. The seven women of the Hori clan now have Yagyū Jūbei as their mentor in vengeance against the sinister Seven Spears of the Aizu — but there’s only so much he can do. He’s determined to find a way to let the women take revenge with their own hands, to serve as an instructor and trainer, but not as a proxy. This will not be easy, especially since the women are not fighters by nature. (One side effect of the training and the subsequent missions is how the women subsequently differentiate themselves and stand out all the more ascharacters, not simply visual elements.) Read more
The other day I was trying to describe to someone how both prolific and talented Osamu Tezuka was, and for lack of any better way to express it I said, “He left behind masterpieces as freely as a tree gave fruit.”
There would be no manga as we know it without Tezuka. The more of his work I read as it slowly appears in English-language editions, the more I’m convinced of this. It’s not just because of the visual style he developed — which in turn was inspired by Walt Disney’s designs — but because he produced a body of work that dwarfed almost anything else seen before or since, that almost everything he put his name to was at least good and often outstanding, and because he labored tirelessly to expand the envelope for what manga was about, what it could do and what it could encompass.Read more