Yasushi Suzuki frustrates me. He’s a brilliant artist trying to expand his horizons by branching out from character designs and book covers into manga. Great. Except that twice now he’s tried to do this and gone face-first into the ground. With those odds, I’m not sure I want to hang around for attempt #3.
His first botch was Purgatory Kabuki, which sported a phenomenal concept and some remarkable design concepts, but was so muddy and incoherent I couldn’t recommend it. I’m not using “muddy” metaphorically, either: the pages looked like they’d fallen face-down into a puddle. And now comes Goths Cage, which isn’t quite as incoherent but only because it has proportionally less story. It consists of three short (very short) stories woven together by no particular theme other than that Suzuki wrote them and they are uniformly morbid and semi-pointless. Read more
Let’s skip ahead a bit, shall we?
The last review I wrote of Berserk feels like ages ago, and while I was planning on going through the whole series in order before arriving at the most recent volumes, I had a nasty run-in with this thing called real life. Then volume 25 hit my doorstep, and I decided to save us all a lot of trouble and jump ahead. I should say that if you’ve any kind of investment in being surprised by the way Berserk unfolds and you haven’t gotten anywhere near this far, go back and get caught up. I hate to ruin a perfectly good surprise.
Volume 25 takes place in the main line of Berserk’s plotting — where Guts is a hulking engine of destruction, Casca a mute shell of a woman, and the world around them is being torn to pieces by demonic incursion. This installment kicks off in the middle of deep trouble, where Guts and his companions have stopped to aid a village being overrun by trolls. Guts’s sword, impressive as it is, only goes so far, and so a local magician — a lithe young girl named Schierke — steps in to lend a hand. Her use of sorcery sparks the ire of the local priest (“Blasphemy!” he thunders), but the townspeople could care less about blasphemy when their village is being overrun. Read more
After a certain point, most manga hit a kind of a plateau. They’ve set up the basic situation, and for the next however many volumes they’re going to run through variations on it like John Coltrane riffing for a solid hour on “My Favorite Things”. The good manga spiral out from their original inspiration and find new and wonderful places to go, like Coltrane did; the mediocre ones just repeat themselves, or run aground.
With volume 4, Nightmare Inspector feels like it’s hit a plateau — but not in the sense that it’s becoming redundant. It’s found a groove that works and is exploring it, and it’s also taking the occasional detour back into the roots of its premises — the former life of Hiruko, the baku, among other things, which provides plenty of meat for future twists. So maybe it hasn’t plateaued at all, and it certainly hasn’t peaked. Even if the plotting runs aground in this series, I’ll probably still snap it up for the artwork, the decadent 1920s Tokyo atmosphere that drips off every page — and the grim little twist ending that caps off every chapter, like a razor between the ribs. Read more
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. — Hunter S. Thompson
You’re not really friends with someone unless you and the other guy can slag each other’s tastes with full-bore venom and still pal around with each other the next day. The other week I had the quote unquote pleasure of having one such friend drill into me for liking Witchblade. I saw a show about motherhood and the pain and joy thereof; he saw a bunch of top-heavy chicks powering up DBZ-style and clobbering the tartar sauce out of each other. But we agree to disagree there, and that’s that — and we both loved the hell out of Casshern, so it isn’t like we’re always at each other’s throats.
I’m expecting a metric truckload of the same kind of “you, sir, are an idiot” missives sent my way after I recommend ×××HOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC: Landolt-Ring Aerosol (best title ever, by the way). I read it and I see an attempt to create a set of tie-in stories for the ×××HOLiC anime/manga universe, faithful to it in spirit and form, with as distinctive a voice and a set of literary tropes as the ones the author brought to his own original works earlier this year. You, on the other hand, will read it and think I am a complete pud. Fine. I still haven’t found a flaming gunblade on my front lawn for the way I savaged Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, so pud I am and pud I remain. I’d like to think I at least have a justification for my pud-dom. Read more
The other day I did my best to describe Kurohime to someone who’d never read it, and my description came out something like this: “It’s a romp through Japanese mythology and fantasy, with shonen action scenes and hot girls, and tons of magic, and oh yeah, there’s a love story in there, too.” Small wonder their reaction amounted to a bit of a blank stare. As fun as Kurohime has shaped up to be (especially after the shaky first couple of volumes), it doesn’t pigeonhole easily.
Volume nine gives us the “de-powered” witch gunslinger Kurohime and her gang of comrades now facing the snow goddess Yuki-Onna — she who holds one of the four Spirit Kings whose powers can help Kurohime liberate her lost love Zero from his spiritual bonds in the afterlife. (How’s that for a thumbnail plot recap?) They end up acquiring a most unusual ally — Yuki-Onna’s Yeti-like flunky, Yuki-Otoko. He’s stuck with his missus all these aeons, even if Onna’s idea of love runs parallel to Kurohime’s original notions of same: why settle for the love of only just one man when you can have ‘em all? (Especially when you can flash-freeze them and store them for later?) Thing is, Kurohime knows better by now. The real and true love of one is always better than the love of many in the abstract — something she learned from Zero, which is all the more reason she’s fighting to liberate him. (Wait: Kurohime, learning? Becoming a better person? Perish the thought!) Read more
The problem with OEL (original English-language) manga is simple: most of them stink. Red String and In Odd We Trust were both awful by any standards, and the worst part is that I didn’t want them to be that lousy. We deserve good graphic novels no matter what the source.
So, now the good news: Nina Matsumoto’s Yokaiden doesn’t stink. In fact, it may be the best OEL manga I’ve read thus far, not only because it taps into the usual trove of visual tropes from manga but also a whole cache of concepts from Japanese mythology. Such things have typically been explored only by Japanese creators themselves, but here and there non-Japanese authors and artists are venturing into that territory (me included). I figure if Hideyuki Kikuchi can combine tropes from all around–from Hammer horror productions to gunslinger Westerns and Chinese mythology–and create something like Vampire Hunter D, why can’t we do the same in return?
Yokaiden gets its title from two words: yokai — the spirits and creatures of Japanese myth and legend — and the suffix –den, meaning “stories” or “tales”. The hero of the story, Hamachi, is a youngster who’s developed a fascination with the yokai: he’s read every scrap of literature he can find on them, and wants more than anything else to meet one for real. Read more