Do I complain or do I savor? That’s the dilemma I’m faced with after reading this manga adaptation of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, one of the first titles from Kodansha’s domestic manga publishing division (which eclipsed Del Rey’s and more or less continued where they left off). The TV series was easily one of my favorite shows of any variety, live-action or animated, and so I looked forward to seeing a comic re-adaptation of the same material. It would at the very least present the creators with a challenge: how do you create a comic adaptation of a show that was itself adapted from a comic, albeit with a good deal of creative liberty on the part of the adaptors?
I didn’t have an inherent problem with this cycle of reworking. It’s not as if there isn’t a long and venerable tradition of one-for-one adaptations between various forms of media in Japanese popular culture. Manga begat TV series, TV series begat second TV series, series (plural) begat light novels, light novels begat side-story manga spinoff, and so on. It’s not as if precedent for this doesn’t exist with GitS:SAC either, since some very good light-novel spinoffs from the TV series were produced in Japan and released domestically by Dark Horse. I enjoyed those books because they managed to mine the same vein as the TV show, where tough people living in a very complicated world do even tougher jobs and in the process discover they are sometimes all too human. I hoped, perhaps in vain, that the manga would be along the same lines: new stories set in the same universe, redolent of the same flavor as the show.Read more
The closet-cleaning for the Black Jack series continues, since everything after volume 11 has been bonus material. But this being Black Jack and this also being Osamu Tezuka, it’s a fascinating closet: Tezuka’s throwaways are better than what most other manga-ka produce in their prime. Read more
There was a time when I sought out writing and artwork that seemed to exist mostly to find rules to break. William Burroughs, Dennis Cooper, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Maldoror, Eden Eden Eden, Michael Gira’s The Consumer. Once the novelty of all that taboo-smashing and transgression wore off, though, I was left with very little worth keeping. There was the occasional author who shocked you into a new kind of awareness — pace Hubert Selby, Jr. — but the vast, vast majority of the time they simply bludgeoned you into numb submission in what amounted to a game of one-upsmanship. Eventually I got fed up with what I called the Endurance Test School — the precept that the real value of a work of art was in how effectively it weeded out the weak ones in the audience. If an author or creator could find a way to make boundary-breaking a logical outgrowth of his work, great, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath waiting for the next Naked Lunch. And even if something like that did come along …
For those reasons, I was a little reluctant to dive into Lychee Light Club. Author and artist Usamaru Furuya had impressed me elsewhere without plunging nose-first into taboo-breaking. His contributions to the Underground Comics Japan compilation, for instance, attached jumper cables to the humdrum four-panel comic format and zapped unpredictable new life into it. There, as well as in the two volumes of Short Cuts — published in English by VIZ under their now-defunct Pulp imprint — he also showcased an astonishing capacity for dead-on stylistic mimicry of a precision I haven’t seen since MAD Magazine’s heyday in the Sixties and Seventies. Furuya, it seemed, could pick up any set of visual tropes and run with them, not only out to the end of the dock but clear across the water itself. So for him to do something like Lychee, an exercise in stylized brutality and cruelty, almost seemed like a step down — a narrowing of his wide-ranging focus, like Andres Segovia plinking out Foreigner or Chicago covers. Read more