With the English-language release of BoBoBo-Bo Bo-bobo, I now have an answer to a question that has bothered me persistently: What would you get if the Monty Python crew dosed themselves with peyote and took over writing duties for Fist of the North Star? Well, now I know, although I can’t really consider myself any the wiser for knowing. Weirded out, maybe, but not wiser.
One doesn’t read Bo-bobo; one is mugged by it. It is the only manga I have read so far that could sport a clinical diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder. There is no guarantee that what happens on facing pages or even adjacent panels will have anything to do with each other. Sometimes they simply don’t, and then the author/artist, Yoshio Sawai, will put the characters through agonizing contortions of illogic to maybe make it seem like they possibly have something to do with each other … or not. It’s weather-in-Chicago humor: if you didn’t laugh this time, turn the page. Read more
The very things that make The Blade of the Courtesans deeply immersive and engrossing are also what make it frustrating. Here we have a novel of historical Japan written by a native Japanese, one who has obviously taken the time to immerse himself in the material to a degree previously unheard of. The shame of it is that Blade is only half of a great book.
For years now best-selling Western authors have been taking stabs at telling stories in historical Japan or some analogue thereof — I.J. Parker, Lian Hearn, Laura Joh Rowland — but there weren’t a great many popular Japanese authors in translation to give us an idea of where all this came from. Keiichiro Ryu’s Blade grabbed my attention for that reason: like The Kouga Ninja Scrolls before it, here was a chance to see what the “real thing” was like. Doubly fascinating since Ryu had a terribly short career as a novelist — only five years — before an untimely death. Read more
There is something very intimidating in the way we have seen more of Japan’s own literary pop culture appear in English in the last few years alone than across almost all the previous years. “Literary pop culture” means the things written in Japan, for Japanese audiences, and not necessarily written to bolster that country’s literary prestige in the eyes of the world. That’s everything from the Vampire Hunter D and Dirty Pair light novels to NISIOISIN, from Miyuki Miyabe’s Crossfire and Brave Story (which are two incredibly dissimilar books for the same author) to the Guin Saga, from Edogawa Rampo’s Black Lizard to Kōji Suzuki’s Ring cycle.
It’s intimidating, because where’s someone supposed to start reading with such a trove of riches now at hand? It’s the same problem I had with the Gundam franchise: there’s just so much of it and in so many incarnations, just picking a starting point has me going in circles. (I’ll probably just give up and start with Gundam SEED. Send hate mail to the email address above.)
For those reasons I’m all the more grateful to Del Rey for hooking up with Kodansha, their perpetual partner in cultural cross-pollination, to bring out a domestic edition of the first volume of Faust. Billed as “fiction and manga from the cutting edge of Japanese pop culture”, it more than lives up to the label. For seventeen bucks you get a nearly four-hundred page anthology of current pop-literary movers, shakers, creators and illustrators — a bentō box of goodies designed to appeal to both existing manga/anime/”visual culture” fans and people from outside that circle looking for a fresh set of cultural diversions. Just the sheer variety of the material sandwiched into this volume would be reason enough to recommend it.Read more
Volume two of Black Lagoon, like volume one, sports the following warning label: “Black Lagoon is rated M for Mature and is recommended for mature readers. This volume contains graphic violence, strong language, nudity, adult situations, drinkin’, smokin’, asskickin’, law-breakin’, gun love, running with scissors and just about everything your mother told you not to do.” Well, I’ve read both volumes cover to cover twice, and I am immensely disappointed to report that there is not a single scene of anyone running with scissors. There is, however, everything else on that list, so I can’t exactly cite them for false advertising.
And there’s a bevy of other ingredients in volume two that they probably just couldn’t mention in that tiny little box. Neo-Nazis; Russian contract killers; gun-dealing, bubblegum-chewing nuns; a close-quarters gunfight in a submarine; and a pair of Romanian twin children who deal out sickening mayhem with great, goony smiles on their faces. This is not the manga you give to your mom to get her into the whole Japanese-popular-culture thing. Okay, maybe not my mother, but you get the idea. (I gave her Yotsuba&! and Mushishi. That seems to have done the trick.)Read more
One day rank-and-file salaryman Rokuro is kowtowing to his boss in his highrise Tokyo office, and the next thing he knows he’s getting punched in the face on the deck of a pirate ship somewhere in the South Pacific, blood on his shirt and guns stuffed up his nostrils. His captors are annoyed that the disk he was holding isn’t going to earn them more than chump change, so why not squeeze a little more sugar out of the deal by ransoming him back to his own employers? And again, before he knows it, he’s cowering behind the bar in some Vietnamese dive while one of his new mercenary buddies is doing the Chow Yun-Fat Two-Fist Pistol Pump on everyone else in sight with a face-splitting grin. And that’s the girl of the team.
So goes the opening chapter of Black Lagoon, which hits the ground running and body-checks us right into the middle of the plot. A friend of mine billed it as “an ‘80s action movie rendered as manga,” and that’s precisely what it is: a hail of cusswords, blood, beatings, and spent shell casings. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun, thanks to snappy writing that never slows down or comes up for air, and a cast full of characters who are all screwloose in different ways. Nominally I’d call a comic like this a guilty pleasure — ditto the TV series inspired by it — but it’s so confident in its excesses that the guilt is entirely optional.Read more