7 Billion Needles may be the most mainstream manga Vertical, Inc. has licensed for their lineup thus far. Mainstream and Vertical do not quite belong in the same sentence: these are the folks who gave us some of the best of Osamu Tezuka in English, and who couldn’t be the next VIZ even if they wanted to. The pragmatic part of me says this is nothing to fear. Criterion licensed Armageddon and The Rock at one point, presumably as a way to get some fast cash through their licensing deals with Universal, and years later their taste is not only intact but even more finely-honed. So for Vertical to pick up this (in my opinion) fairly formulaic if totally readable title is not a sign of disaster. It’s a sign they need to eat, too, and honestly there are far worse things they could be licensing as part of that process.
Needles opens with Hikaru Takabe, a teenager who keeps her fairly unextraordinary life at bay from behind her headphones and her music player. She lives with her uncle and his wife (her biological parents are gone), wanders between school and home with nothing in particular to do at either end, and has all the self-actualization of a dandelion seed on the wind. One night she’s at a school outing near the ocean when something comes screaming out of the sky, lands in front of her, and incinerates her in less time than it takes to tell about it. Read more
By the end of the first volume of Peepo Choo I had, I thought, a solid idea of what Felipe Smith was up to. He was satirizing, in the bluntest and most caustic way, the ways some Americans (and some Japanese) see in each others’ countries a kind of self-mythologizing that they confuse with reality. He wanted to destroy this funhouse mirror by making us laugh at it. And laugh I did; the first book is terribly funny in a way that makes you feel guilty for laughing.
And now comes the second volume, where I now worry about whether or not Smith is in the process of erecting a new, even more grossly distorting mirror to replace the one he’s smashing. On the one hand, Smith is smacking the otaku crowd for being such shills. On the other hand, he goes far over the top giving them what they want and then some. What redeems all this, though, is how he makes you empathize with the people stuck in this story who most deserve it: misguided otaku Milton, who just wants a place to feel at home; his new friend Miki, who has the same problem; and Miki’s friend Reiko, embittered about men generally and Americans in particular (and who sees Miki and Milton as equally hopeless nerds). Read more