My most common lament about anime, manga and Japanese popular culture generally has been the language barrier. I’ve tried to learn Japanese but I was only able to make so much headway, and with my spare time at an even greater premium now it’s not likely I’ll ever develop the skill needed to read manga without a translator. A great many titles I know I want to delve into — Azumi, for instance, or Yoshiharu Tsuge’s works, or the endless one-shots I’ve collected along the way — are more or less off-limits for now. In this regard I have, and most likely always will, depend on the kindness of strangers.
The good news is the strangers are getting a little kinder with each passing year. Not just manga publishers like Dark Horse taking intelligent risks with titles like Hiroki Endo’s Tanpenshu, but Drawn & Quarterly bringing out Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work, or Vertical, Inc. digging through most of Osamu Tezuka’s back catalog. Now joining their ranks are graphic-novel greats Fantagraphics, and their debut release in this category is a gorgeously-produced best-of collection from shojo manga creator Moto Hagio, A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. (Even apart from the content, the book is a keeper — a large-format hardback, in color, one of the best productions of its kind since something like the domestic printing of Seiichi Hayashi’s Red-Colored Elegy.) Read more
Let me start on as unambiguous a note as possible. Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo is the manga title of the summer, possibly the manga title for the whole of 2010. It doesn’t just break new ground for manga, it paves it and puts parking stripes on it. It is raunchier than the last issue of Penthouse Variations you found behind someone else’s toilet, violent enough to knock the teeth from your face, and entirely too funny for its own good. It will raise one hell of a noise. It ought to.
After writing and throwing away a dozen other drafts of this review, I think I’ve managed to boil down to three basic points what makes this book such a blast of fresh air. One, as has been discussed at great length elsewhere, it’s one of the first manga titles — if not the first — created by a non-Japanese native, but published over in Japan before being licensed in English. Two, it uses its outlandish seinen plot (which reads like an overheated portion of, say, Black Lagoon) to make some fierce points about the very audience that might well be lining up for this thing. It has at least as much to say about otakudom as it does its cultural inverse, the fetishization of all things American (or at least Western) by some Japanese. Three, it does all this in exactly the style — not visual, but emotional — of the best manga: on one panel you’re getting your face slammed into the pavement, and then on the next you’re getting tickled until you can’t breathe. There’s a kind of genius in being able to do that and get away with it. Read more