The manga of Kujibiki Unbalance may well be one of the strangest in-jokes ever perpetrated on any fandom. It didn’t exist as an actual product for a long time — in fact, a part of me wishes it didn’t exist, period. But here it is all the same: a manga spun off from an anime derived in turn from an anime that only existed as a show-within-a-show. If your head’s hurting at that, think about how I feel.
The source of the in-joke behind all this should be automatically familiar to anyone who’s read or watched Genshiken (either the manga or the TV series; the joke’s the same in either one). Kujian, as it’s called for short, is the show-within-the-show that the characters were fans of. Part of the joke was that Kujian didn’t actually exist — the glimpses we were given of it made it look like an amalgam of every anime/manga cliché imaginable, plus a few we forgot about along the way. It worked wonderfully in the context of the show, because you didn’t need to see the whole show to know how it worked. Anyone who’d done any decent amount of time in otaku-dom could fill in the blanks on their own.Read more
Reading Zaregoto is a little like watching someone doing one of those wild juggling acts where they swap clubs for flaming torches for bowling balls for chainsaws, all without dropping anything on the floor. It’s a slick, addictive Japanese pop-literary confection, an amalgam of mystery thriller, psychological suspense, philosophical pondering, and all-out weirdness. At first you’re reading it for the who-why-and-how-dunit aspects of the story, but by the end you’re seeing it as a portrait of the oddball mentality of the genius.
“Genius” is a word I now hate, no thanks to being bled dry of meaning after decades of unthinking abuse. When Apple has a “Genius Bar” in their stores (staffed, for the most part, by people who are not whole orders of magnitude smarter than the rest of us, just better trained in things Apple) and the word itself is used as a sit-com insult, there’s not much room left to sink, is there? Zaregoto, though, understands all this and uses it as a starting point. Those with genius express it narrowly — through one skill, one insight, one idea — and even the smartest of people can be undone by the simplest and most underhanded behaviors and motives.Read more
When I was younger I used to play creepy games with myself where I’d pretend that everyone else except me was an alien. Eventually the fun wore off and I turned to reading SF and comics to get my share of those kinds of thrills, but the idea stayed with me: What if I am not like everyone else? Worse, what if that guy over there isn’t like anyone else except me?
This is a big part of the appeal Parasyte has held for me through its first two volumes — the idea that something can look like a human, behave like a human, and yet somehow be completely alien underneath. Rather than stop there, though, each successive installment of Parasyte has expanded on the idea. Assume that there are humans among us who have been invaded with alien beings — what then? How do they mingle among us undetected? What happens when some of them merge incompletely with their hosts?Read more
“Beautiful” and “deadly” are two words that seem fated to go hand-in-hand in most manga. They certainly apply to Makie the geisha, a woman of both uncommon loveliness and unearthly skill with her choice of weapons. A woman that gorgeous and with so many talents, though, shouldn’t have such a desolate expression all the time — but that’s only because she knows firsthand how all things, herself included, are terribly impermanent. And now she has been commanded by her lover Anotsu to seek out and kill Manji, the ronin condemned to take a thousand evil lives before he himself will be permitted to die.
Welcome to Dreamsong, the third volume of Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, for my money the best comic running apart from one of Dark Horse’s other titles, Berserk (which I need to get caught back up with one of these days). It’s not just the unmistakable art style or the show-stopping characters or the gut-level storytelling — it’s the fact that you’ve got all this side by side in the same book, and none of them comes at the expense of the other. It’s all of a piece.Read more
The best thing about the fifth book in the Guin Saga is, in a way, also the worst thing. At last, the five-volume “Marches Episode” — the first five of the hundred-plus Guin novels — has come to the smashing conclusion it deserves. But while it ends with a bang (and a roar, and a whoosh), it also leaves behind so many tantalizing hints and so many as-yet-unanswered questions that it’s not so much an ending as a pause for breath. We know there’s more … just not here, and not in English. I could lament that fact until they carted me off, but I’d rather celebrate the fact that we got this far at all.
Over the course of the previous volumes we’ve followed Guin, he of the body of a gladiator and the head of a leopard, out of the forbidding Roodwood and into the wastes of the Nospherus. He’s become self-appointed guardians of the royal twins Rinda and Remus, been chased by the armies of the Mongaul empire, made tentative allies out of the simian Sem to protect their lands against invasion, and headed ever deeper into the wasteland to find and enlist the fabled (many would say fictional) Lagon in their ongoing fight.Read more
“From the creator of Dragon Ball Z!” proudly proclaims the blurb on the cover of Cowa!. Not being a DBZ fan, I wasn’t sure how much of a selling point this was going to be for me. But what a pleasure and a surprise — Cowa! (as in, maybe, “Cowabunga!”?) is a downright charming story, a single-volume standalone adventure that’s nothing like the work Akira Toriyama’s more famous for. It’s billed on the back cover as a “spooktacular manga for kids”, the sort of thing you can snap up as a Halloween-themed goodie, but this is one of those cases where all ages really does mean all ages. Adults who’re in the know can savor this one right along with the young ‘uns, and not feel guilty about it.
Cowa! reminded me a bit of the kind of cheerfully jumbled, mix-and-match mythology of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas — or, closer to home, Toriyama’s own good-natured and often royally funny series Dr. Slump, also for a relatively young audience. The story’s hero is Paifu, a kid who’s half-vampire and half-were-koala (yes, half-were-koala), whose hobbies include every conceivable variety of mischief. That includes everything from blowing off school to boosting neighbor’s watermelons to sneaking into un-haunted houses with his buddy José the ghost. They also end up making an enemy out of a grumpy human in the area, Mr. Maruyama — an ex-sumo wrestler with a troubled past, a cigarette always in his mouth and a perennially foul attitude, especially where children are involved. (I suspect a prerequisite for growing up in any culture is the presence of a Grouchy Neighbor Who Hates Kids.)Read more
Nozomu Tamaki’s Dance in the Vampire Bund (I know, whatta title) is one of those books where a manga-ka normally known for adult material turns around and creates something for — gasp — relatively mainstream audiences. In fact, given the nature of this story and the previous work Tamaki’s signed his name to in both English and Japanese, such as Femme Kabuki, I’m stupefied this has only been labeled with the “OT16+” rating and isn’t sold in shinkwrap. A story about vampire princess who only looks like a pre-teen girl but still shows off a dismaying amount of skin isn’t exactly something you want to be seen reading on the bus. That said, what’s between the rather racy covers is actually pretty good.
Said princess is Mina Ţepeş, queen of all vampirekind and entirely an adult now despite her underage appearance. The age/appearance issue is a convenient loophole through which the story manages to avoid veering into complete tastelessness, especially since there are a couple of moments — one, predictably enough, involving the application of sunblock — where Tamaki’s wink-wink-nudge-nudge approach to that material really pushes the boundaries of taste. Put those questionable elements aside, though, and what’s left is actually quite readable: a nifty premise that has the potential to go places, provided Tamaki’s predilection for female curves doesn’t turn the whole thing into a mere flesh parade.Read more
Miranda: O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
Prospero: ’Tis new to thee.
— Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene 1
One of the creepier epiphanies I had in science class was when I learned about the bacteria that live in our digestive tracts. The idea that there was something else alive inside me was eerie enough, but then I read about the organisms that flourish in the volcanic vents on the ocean floor. Compared to that, the inside of my gut was relatively easy territory. Life flourishes wherever it finds a toe-hold, and it’s easy to forget that human beings are only one leaf of a much larger biological tree.
Mushi-shi is one of the few manga I have read that that does justice to that sense of wonder. It is not about a plot or a problem or even really a character, although its individual episodes may contain all of those things. What it is most about is an ecology, a cycle of life and death and rebirth, and how the world of men is only a tiny dot on the face of things. The only other comic I can think of that comes even close to the same territory is Larry Marder’s amazing (and criminally underappreciated) Beanworld, but while Beanworld was about whimsy and wit, Mushi-shi is about overwhelming awe.Read more