I’m going to start this review with a position I fully expect others to find irritating at best and indefensible at worst. I hated Axis Powers Hetalia so much that for a long time I didn’t dare tell anyone how much I despised it.
The show has a strong fanbase, but I know better than to try and lecture people about taste. I only know that the show makes my stomach bubble and my temples pound in rage. Hetalia reminds me way too much of exactly the sort of nationalist, race-baiting propaganda produced by the very countries depicted in the show during WWII — including, I must add with no small amount of chagrin, the United States itself. That it tries to be cute and inoffensive only makes it all the uglier to me. And yes, I’m intimately familiar with the whole “Japan has very little political correctness as we understand it in the West” argument; it doesn’t make the damn thing any less uncomfortable for me to watch. There’s plenty of other stuff out there that I know I want to check out, and that I know isn’t going to give me a case of the sociological squicks.
(Pause for deluge of hate mail. Delete. Onward.) Read more
Much as I hate to admit it, at this point Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei has hit something like a comfortably formulaic plateau. What was funny and startling in the first couple of volumes has been reduced to a set of dance steps. They’re well-executed, but they’re a far cry from the wild fandango that kicked off this series, and so a comment like “How I laughed!” now carries with it a “but…”.
And yet, at the same time, there really isn’t anything else like this right now. Would that I had to find shelf-space partners for Zetsubo-sensei, they would consist of a very small, oddball list of other comics — the riotous Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga!, or maybe Usamaru Furuya’s indescribable and hilarious Palepoli. All of which, now that I think about it, are united in that they tap into humor that’s as peculiarly Japanese as it is a tough sell for people who are not already fans. I’ve talked before about this, and with each passing volume SZS gets no easier to stump for, even as it becomes that much more predictable. Read more
This is the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. It is also not the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. Not the last volume that Vertical, Inc. will be publishing in English; and not the last of such stories that was originally published in Japan, either.
It’s complicated. So much so that at the end of the volume, the editors have to step in and explain why there will be more Black Jack even though the final story does feel very much like a sign-off: there was such a clamor for more Black Jack that Tezuka filled orders for more stories in the series, on and off, for half a decade after it was officially shuttered. To that end there are several more volumes to come, which explains why the ending we get is a non-ending — and why it might be best to start there and work my way back through the book.Read more
Most every society has mythologies that refuse to die even when there isn’t a shred of support for them. On the contrary: lack of evidence forces people to rely all the more on indestructible faith. Consider Japan’s long-standing fantasy that Yoshitsune never died, but instead escaped to Mongolia and became Chinggis Khan. Yasushi Inoue futilely sparred with the concept, and in his afterword to The Blue Wolf he mentioned how he’d attempted to read one “extremely tedious” defense of the idea before realizing the reality of the Khan’s life was far more interesting. The idea that the Genji general could have become the Mongolian warlord was only slightly less ridiculous than pigs achieving escape velocity unaided.
But aren’t crazy ideas, the exceptions to the rule, the very mainstay of fiction? Well, sure, up to a point, but after that they have to bring in things that don’t just rely on novelty and shock value. King of Wolves’s biggest problem is not that it recycles the Yoshitsune-is-Chinggis trope, but that the original story it tells is pedestrian. It also stirs in another trope Japanese pop culture resurrects too often for its own good: the Time Slip. You remember this from G.I. Samurai: people from the present day whisked away to the past; they realize they’re standing at the crossroads of history with the fate of the future in the balance; and so on. I don’t know about you, but if I was whisked off to 11th century Mongolia, I’d be more worried about dropping dead of typhoid than whether or not my actions were trashing the future. (And how is it that the characters in these stories come fully-equipped with an understanding of temporal mechanics, anyway?) Read more