Blog posts in Books for August 2007:

Books: Blade of the Immortal Vol. #1: Blood of a Thousand

The problem with being immortal is that it’s a package deal from hell. Yes, you get to live forever, but it usually comes at a drastic cost—like, for instance, the fact that while you might get to live forever, anyone...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/08/09 00:09
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The problem with being immortal is that it’s a package deal from hell. Yes, you get to live forever, but it usually comes at a drastic cost—like, for instance, the fact that while you might get to live forever, anyone else you could come to care about typically doesn’t. And then there’s all that nasty, unwanted attention if your secret ever gets out, and the way that bad hair day you’re having never goes away, and …

That’s how it works in Blade of the Immortal, Hiroaki Samura’s widely-acclaimed, long-running, and blood-splattered manga epic about a (theoretically) unkillable rōnin in feudal Japan. The story doesn’t fall into the trap of assuming immortality is some great treasure—here, it’s a curse written in the blood and entrails of the undying, and it comes at a cost so huge that only the most wretched would ever want it. Small wonder it ends up being inflicted on Manji, a former samurai now turned freelance death merchant. To atone for his crimes as a mortal, he now has to deliver the corpses of one thousand evil men to his new master, the old hag Yaobikuni.

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Tags: Hiroaki Samura Japan manga review


Books: Tanpenshu Vol. #1

"You should buy this book immediately. If necessary, you should also spend the cab fare needed to get to the nearest bookstore. You should do this because this is a book that knows perfectly well that you are seething inside."...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/08/08 19:45
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"You should buy this book immediately. If necessary,you should also spend the cab fare needed to get to the nearestbookstore. You should do this because this is a book that knowsperfectly well that you are seething inside."

—from Algis Budry’s review of Harlan Ellison’s SF anthology Dangerous Visions

And yes, Tanpenshu knows you’re seething inside, too.This is praise, since so few manga ever reach for anything like that.They may entertain, but they don’t always touch us. Tanpenshu doesn’t just touch you; it cuts you, and it draws blood as well.

I’d actually encountered part of Tanpenshu before(the chapter entitled “For Those of Us Who Don’t Believe in God,” in afan-translated edition), and it shook me so badly that by the time thewhole book came out in a legitimate edition, thanks to Dark Horse, itended up sitting on my shelf for weeks, still in the shrinkwrap. It wasone of the most profoundly intimidating manga stories I’d everread—not just the subject matter or the treatment shook me, but thesheer amount of insight and talent Hiroki Endo had to burn in that onestory made me feel like I simply couldn’t measure up. I finally chokeddown my nerve and broke open the plastic—and yes, I was againintimidated. Made jealous, even, but in a good way, a way that made me want to go out and create something at least as good so I could measure up.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Books: Kaze Hikaru Vol. #6

It’s always an interesting experience to see Japanese history treated in manga form—in fact, a fairly major subgenre of manga there (which hasn’t seen much in the way of translation here) are retellings of history from as far back as...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/08/08 19:44
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It’s always an interesting experience to see Japanese history treated in manga form—in fact, a fairly major subgenre of manga there (which hasn’t seen much in the way of translation here) are retellings of history from as far back as ancient China. Here we have one of the most durable bits of Japan’s past—the story of the Shinsengumi—resurrected in the context of a romance between a young girl and one of the historical figures involved, and it manages to be spry and compelling throughout. Done wrong, this kind of thing can seem off-putting or jarring, but here it remains rooted just firmly enough in the historical record to be enjoyable.

Kaze Hikaru takes place in the 1860s, a period in Japan’s history when the Shinsengumi (“Newly Selected Corps”), a militia assembled from both samurai and commoners, rallied around the embattled Shogunate and did their best to keep the country from being Westernized. The Shinsengumi have become popular heroes in Japan—the subjects of endless novels, movies, and yes, manga—although they probably are admired more for the zeal they brought to the job than the specific work they were doing. (Most people reading this will remember the Shinsengumi and the Meiji Restoration as bits of the backdrop from Rurouni Kenshin, where they fictionalized about as freely as they were here. They also figured into Peacemaker Kurogane, where they were fictionalized almost to the point of incoherency.)

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Tags: Japan manga review


Books: Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man Vol. #2

The current crop of reviews for The Bourne Ultimatum describe it as one big non-stop chase scene. That’s kind of how Banya: the Explosive Deliveryman plays out, too. Take our hero (Banya, the “Postman of the Wasteland”), give him a...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/08/08 19:44
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The current crop of reviews for The Bourne Ultimatum describe it as one big non-stop chase scene. That’s kind of how Banya: the Explosive Deliveryman plays out, too. Take our hero (Banya, the “Postman of the Wasteland”), give him a goal, send about six thousand bad guys after him, and watch him run, run, run until he either keels over or actually accomplishes what he set out to do. Back at the end of Volume 1 Banya was high-tailing it through the blighted desert that makes up a good chunk of his world, with a package under one arm and a cadre of death merchants nipping at his heels. Not the most original setup, to be sure, but Banya makes it work by simply putting its head down and charging forward through this premise at top speed.

Banya has three approaches to any given problem, used in this order: 1) run the heck away, 2) trick your enemies into feuding amongst themselves, and 3) kill ‘em yourself. All three get used here. That oversized kitchen knife hanging from his waist is there for a reason, and right in the first pages of this volume he puts it to good use—he blinds one of his pursuers with a smoke bomb, then severs the poor sap’s hamstring. (There’s more, but it happens out of frame.) When one of his own friends’ lives also happens to be on the line—in this case, his “sister” Mei—he has all the more reason to slice someone up. But on the whole, he’d either run faster than they can, or use another time-honored tactic you can employ when you’re bracketed by different varieties of enemies: Why kill them when you can get them to kill each other? Mei, too, now a prisoner of the same gang of goons after Banya’s package, improvises wildly to stall her captors … until Banya shows up and pulls off a diversion, and lands them both in possibly even bigger trouble.

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Tags: Korea review


Books: Kekkaishi Vol. #9

Volume 9 of Kekkaishi confirmed what I’d suspected before: what we have here is a good series that feels like a hybrid of tropes from Bleach and Naruto, and falls somewhat short of both of them. It doesn’t stand far...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/08/08 19:43
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Volume 9 of Kekkaishi confirmed what I’d suspected before: what we have here is a good series that feels like a hybrid of tropes from Bleach and Naruto, and falls somewhat short of both of them. It doesn’t stand far enough apart from the spate of other, better series in the market right now that overshadow it. But it is entertaining, and there are bursts of ingenuity and fun throughout that make it a nice diversion.

This book also goes a long way towards confirming a theory I’ve had about anime and manga, one I call the Theory of the Brightly Shining Toss-Off. Sometimes in a series, the incidental characters—the walk-ons, the second-, third- and fourth-banana roles, and the people who just show up and vanish—command the attention a lot more than the main characters do. Why? Because they’re incidentals—they don’t have the burden of carrying the story on their shoulders, so the author (and artist) don’t feel as restricted by what they can make them into. They can be as wild-and-wooly as they wanna be, and they often upstage everyone else as a result.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Books: Hoshin Engi Vol. #2

The second volume of Hoshin Engi continues everything that got started in the first volume: a fast-moving and wildly colorful story based, however loosely, on a Ming-era Chinese classic novel. There’s been any number of manga adaptations of classic Chinese...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/08/08 19:43
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The second volume of Hoshin Engi continues everything that got started in the first volume: a fast-moving and wildly colorful story based, however loosely, on a Ming-era Chinese classic novel. There’s been any number of manga adaptations of classic Chinese literature, and from what I’ve seen they typically just take the bare bones of the original material and drape a far more outlandish story around it.

Hoshin Engi is no exception, and while I confess I haven’t read the original story, I’m not sure the vast majority of people encountering the manga in English for the first time will have, either. But does it matter? Not really, since the point of Engi is to give us one wild bit of adventure after another, and in that sense it succeeds completely. Like the Dragonball sagas (also adapted, in however loose and open-ended a fashion, from Chinese mythology and fantasy), it gives us a hero and a spate of villains with powers far beyond the human norm, and watches them collide.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Books: Monster Vol. #4

Early on in volume four of Monster, Dr. Tenma pulls a gun on a bar full of neo-Nazi skinheads and growls, “Watch it, I have enough bullets for all of you”—not long after he’s threatened to shove a ballpoint pen...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/08/08 19:42
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Early on in volume four of Monster, Dr. Tenma pulls a gun on a bar full of neo-Nazi skinheads and growls, “Watch it, I have enough bullets for all of you”—not long after he’s threatened to shove a ballpoint pen into the carotid artery of one of the biggest bruisers in the place. (Nice thing about being a doctor: you know exactly where to stab someone to make them really bleed.)

This is not the only hint of how far Dr. Tenma’s come in his violent odyssey through the German underworld, but it’s one of the bluntest. The man who once worked tirelessly to save a young boy’s life has now evolved into a hardened and disciplined soldier of fortune, whose self-appointed mission is to seek out the young man that boy has grown up into, and kill him without mercy. He only does this because the boy he seeks, Johan, has become something infinitely more dangerous than Tenma could ever be: a predator who will seek out even other predators as his prey.

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Tags: Japan manga review


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