Let us say in life:
No earthquakes are permissible.
What happens then?
— John Cage
Some stories are all about the story — the mechanics, the details, the thing that happens. The guy gets the girl, the dog turns up safely, the bad guy is bisected from top to bottom, the planet blows up. Happy story, sad story, strange story. Beginning, middle, end. The end.
Some stories are not about the story. They’re about the fact that “the story” has been going on for some time now. This is just where we came in. When we enter and leave the first volume of What A Wonderful World! or any of its attendant chapters, the one thing artist and author Inio Asano makes us feel most is how all this could still be going on somewhere. Go out your door and walk far enough and you might run into all the people you just read about, still doing their thing. I don’t get that feeling often from a book, or a manga. When I do, it’s worth celebrating. Read more
I think I’ve said “Now where the hell is all this going?” about thirty times — a couple of times for each volume, on the balance of it — ever since Berserk’s “Golden Age” arc ended and we were returned to what amounted to Guts’s struggles in present time. The story has come a long way since, and jumped through more (flaming) hoops than originally seemed possible or necessary.
And yet, I have never felt that Kentaro Miura didn’t have some sense of how everything was ultimately going to fit together. Each piece of the story does have its place — it’s just that when you’re in the process of watching it unfold, it can become a test of patience. What I’ve discovered works best is just to take each volume on its own terms first — as a story about a man’s adventures, nothing more than that — and then only after about every six or seven volumes have gone by attempt to snap everything together. Trying to figure out how it all snaps into place while you’re reading it is a sure formula for frustration. Read more
My favorite movie of the last decade or so is Oldboy, and when I watch it with friends who haven’t seen it before I find myself not so much looking at the movie as I do their faces. I watch them most intently during the scene with the photo album. (You’ve seen it? You know what I’m talking about.) They usually have their hands steepled over their mouth, which is by then open wide enough to serve as a landing bay for the Spruce Goose.
Take a picture of yourself while you’re reading the last couple of pages of the fifth volume of 20th Century Boys, because odds are you’re going to look exactly like that. File that photo in the dictionary next to the word gobsmacked. The stunt that Naoki Urasawa pulls in this volume is very nearly up into the Oldboy stratosphere as far as emotional impact goes: he doesn’t so much mislead us as he allows us to mislead ourselves. This whole time we’ve been allowed to think this story would have a happy ending, and now he not only pulls the rug out from under us but the floor along with it. Read more
His name is “Shogun” — he’s Japanese, after all — and most people in the Thai underworld run when they hear his name. He’s an enforcer for various underworld concerns, tough enough to get any number of girls to drape themselves over him at the snap of a finger, but strangely indifferent to female flesh — maybe because he lives in a town where girls, and human life in general, are as cheap as water. He’s also ostensibly a man of the moment, but from time to time he feels the faint gravitational tug of nostalgia drawing him back home. Then he remembers he came to Thailand to forget himself, to forget the son he killed through his own neglect and self-importance, and to tackle problems that he can solve by beating with his bare fists.
He is also one of Kenji’s childhood friends, and so as you can imagine he’s more important than he realizes in the 20th Century Boys universe. One day Shogun rescues a dying man from a hotel room — a cop, a Japanese cop — and hears him babble a few too many things before he chokes on his own vomit. Drug overdose? No, murder — he’s seen a few too many such things with his own eyes to be fooled. But what did this guy mean when he said “the Friends have taken over Japan”? Before he knows it he’s run afoul of men who make the local gang bosses and drug syndicates look like rank amateurs — but the Friends have never met anyone like Shogun before, either. Irresistible force meets immovable object, and everyone heads for shelter. Read more
In many ways this is the volume of Claymore that every fan of this series has been waiting for. For one, it’ll be the last release for the series until the middle of next year, so if you were holding off getting into the series, now’s the perfect time to do it without worrying about falling behind. (You have been saving your pennies to fill the gaps in this series, right?)
It’s also the volume were us lucky fans receive two major story milestones. The first is the Big Reveal about why the Claymores, the yoma, the Awakened Beings, the Organization — the whole tamale with the rice and the sour cream on the side — all exist. And it is a doozy and a half, even if you could see at least some of it coming as far back as volume 7 or 8. Nobody has doubted that the Organization wasn’t in this with anything less than their own best interests at heart, there’s a lot more beyond that, and I would sooner lie down in front of moving traffic than reveal any of it here. Read more
I demand two things from a composer: invention, and that he astonish me. — Karlheinz Stockhausen
This is the third time, or maybe the fourth time, I have tried to write a review of Genichiro Takahashi’s Sayonara Gangsters. The first time, I couldn’t even think of anything coherent to say, and ended up with a thousand words of sub-Lester Bangs drivel that wasn’t even worth laughing at. The second time (and maybe the third as well), the document vanished completely from both computers where I had a copy. Either I’d stupidly never saved it in the first place, or Amanojaku had come along and talked my PC into dumping the drafts into the memory hole.
Each time I’ve sat down to write this thing, I run into the same issue anew: How does one talk about a book that is both quite cheerful and flabbergastingly strange, often right in the same sentences? It’s tempting to call the book critic-proof, but that’s an adjective usually reserved for works with a built-in fanbase who will buy the book no matter how savagely the critics treat it. It doesn’t really apply to something so merrily bonkers in its own way that a review threatens to not do it justice. And yet I suspect the mere fact that I can’t pigeonhole the book or even figure out where to begin describing it is, in its own way, praise. Few books resist classification that defiantly and come out the other side not only unscathed but all the more readable for it.Read more
Something inexplicable is happening on the surface of the planet Mercury. At first it looks like nothing more than a spire growing outwards into space, a mere hair on the lens of high-school student and amateur astronomer Aki Shiraishi’s telescope. But soon the spire has become a filament encircling the sun, and soon that thread in space becomes a wall that threatens to completely block out the sun and exterminate all life.
Studying the ring becomes Aki’s purpose in the world, even as global cooling takes its toll and civilization begins to implode. Her hard work pays off: she’s selected to become part of a mission to venture out there, study the ring, and if possible stop its relentless growth. What they don’t expect is to discover the ring’s real purpose, and that destroying the ring may well mean condemning another intelligent species somewhere else in the universe to death. What’s more, Aki realizes she feels a great and painful empathy for the aliens — even before she’s ever met them — something which compels her to reach out to them, to rebuild the Ring in a way that will allow mankind and this as-yet-unknown other to live.Read more