Blog posts in Books for June 2009:

Books: Black Lagoon Vol. #5

About halfway through volume five of Black Lagoon comes a realization about who and what has been driving this story. We know it’s been about the hapless Japanese ex-salaryman Rock and his newfound life as a member of the mercenary...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/23 14:38
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About halfway through volume five of Black Lagoon comes arealization about who and what has been driving this story. We knowit’s been about the hapless Japanese ex-salaryman Rock and his newfoundlife as a member of the mercenary crew of the Black Lagoon, but how it is about Rock and his new life is also crucial. You can’t live a criminal life without beinga criminal, and up until now Rock has bent over backwards to avoidgetting his hands too dirty. Given that throughout volume five he’sbracketed on one side by Revy (gun-toting madwoman) and by Balalaika onthe other (ex-Russian special forces power broker and death merchant),his odds of keeping either his hands or his nose clean asymptoticallyapproach zero the further you go.

It had to happen at some point. As of the last volume,Rock and Revy had arrived in Japan to take care of business, only toget embroiled in a local war between rival yakuza factions and HotelMoscow. Worse, the war centers around Yukio, the teenage girl who’s theheir to the Washimine gangster family, and who fully intends to takeover the center seat and steer her clan back to something like honor.Her rivals find this laughable, and the first half or so of the book istaken up with a massive brawl wherein Revy, Yukio’s personalbodyguard Ginji, and Rock all descend on a bowling alley where Yukio’sbeing held hostage. (Revy’s usual badassery is on display here, butRock isn’t exactly useless here: to bring down a fleeing bad guy, hesoaps up a stretch of floor and wields a bowling pin.)

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Tags: Japan Rei Hiroe manga review


Books: All You Need Is Kill

Private Keiji Kiriya lives in a nightmare. Literally. Every day he wakes up, works out, dons his suit of powered super-armor, dives into combat to defend Earth from invasion by the alien “Mimics”, gets killed—and wakes up back in his...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/21 23:58
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Private Keiji Kiriya lives in a nightmare. Literally. Every day hewakes up, works out, dons his suit of powered super-armor, dives intocombat to defend Earth from invasion by the alien “Mimics”, getskilled—and wakes up back in his bunk to do it all over again. By hisown count he has been doing this over one hundred and fifty times. Somedays he manages to live another few minutes longer on the battlefield.Some days he never makes it out of his barracks. And occasionally, veryoccasionally, he discovers another permutation—another wrinkle in thefabric of his temporal pocket, another way to not just push theenvelope but make it bend to his will.

This probably makes All You Need Is Kill sound like a mixture of Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day. Yes, I do mean the Bill Murray movie, which has over time stood up as a quiet little classic. Kill hassomething of the same premise—you only truly move into the future bylearning to change—but applies it in ways that make it leapfrog overits source material and turn into something genuinely different. Itstarts as a war story, introduces time travel and causality, thentouches on determinism and free will, planetary ecology, exobiology,terraforming, the intra-species barrier, and then finally shoots forthe moon and ends up in love-story territory. This should not all work,but it does.

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Tags: Alexander O. Smith Haikasoru Hiroshi Sakurazaka Japan fiction review


Books: Black Jack Vol. #5

There are moments when volume 5 of Black Jack is unbelievably disappointing. There are also as many moments, if not more so, when it is elating and exciting and challenging. In short, when it is the Black Jack—and the Osamu...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/20 00:08
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There are moments when volume 5 of Black Jack is unbelievablydisappointing. There are also as many moments, if not more so, when itis elating and exciting and challenging. In short, when it is the Black Jack—and the Osamu Tezuka—that we have come to expect and savor. It’s just that this time your mileage will vary. A lot.

It’s moments like this when I see why the original Viz edition of Black Jack—evenif it was only two volumes—opted for the greatest-hits-anthologyapproach. Not everything from a person’s lifetime output is going to beequally good, and that applied to Tezuka as well. But Vertical, Inc.has pledged to stick with the warts-and-all approach to publishing Black Jackin English, all seventeen-something volumes of it. Still, one of thebenefits of that level of completism is seeing how even Tezuka’s worstmaterial was still at least interesting

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Tags: Black Jack Japan Osamu Tezuka Vertical Inc. manga review


Book Reviews: Sayonara, Mr. Fatty!: A Geek's Diet Memoir (Toshio Okuda)

“Reality counts for a lot.” Despite the label on the cover (A Geek’s Diet Memoir), Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! is not a “diet book”. If anything, it’s an anti-diet book, much as Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos was an anti-self-help...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/18 17:00
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“Reality counts for a lot.”

Despite the label on the cover (A Geek’s Diet Memoir), Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! is not a “diet book”. If anything, it’s an anti-diet book, much as Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos was an anti-self-help book. The latter was designed to make you laugh at the absurdity of expecting someone else to be able to tell you who and what you are; the former lets you realize that dieting in the abstract is not going to help you lose and keep off weight. It’s an anti-gluttony book, a guide for waking yourself up and making you realize that you are best equipped to carry out your own self-destruction.

Maybe that sounds a bit over-the-top, but if the events of the last decade or so—financial, political, ecological—have taught us anything, it’s that our biggest problem as a species is that we think we want things we simply don’t need. We eat too much, we spend too much, we gobble up far more than our slice of the pie—and we condition ourselves to not even notice any of it. It’s this last part that’s the most damaging, because it allows us to go right back out and start all over again with no thought to the consequences. Toshio Okada’s book is about getting off this thoughtless Möbius strip treadmill of consumption, and the fact that it’s in the guise of a personable, friendly, you-can-do-it-too guide makes it all the better. It’s not a frothing condemnation of the Consumer Culture, but a DIY guide to picking the locks on your jail cell.

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Tags: Japan Vertical Inc. nonfiction review


Books: Gestalt Vol. #1

Here is your analogy for the day: Gestalt is like a really good hamburger. The ingredients come as no surprise, and neither is the form they come in—but is there anyone here who doesn’t like a really good hamburger? (Apologies...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/16 17:48
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Here is your analogy for the day: Gestalt is like a reallygood hamburger. The ingredients come as no surprise, and neither is theform they come in—but is there anyone here who doesn’t like a reallygood hamburger? (Apologies to the vegetarians in the audience.)

Thebook amounts to a generic Fantasy Adventure Quest template: it not onlybreaks no new ground, but goes back and puts parking stripes on the oldground. And yet the whole thing is fun, in big part because of theattitude. It doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t try to,either. It’s leavened with cheek and good humor, and so more than makesup for being unoriginal by having high spirits. It also sports a majorselling point in that it’s an early creation from Yun Kouga, she of Loveless fame, a series I haven’t yet read but which has been next to impossible not to know about.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Book Reviews: Yoko Tsuno #1: On the Edge of Life

A while back I wrote a review of an animated feature from Japan—Tarō the Dragon Boy—where I said something along these lines: “You could watch this just for the nostalgia value, but that would be a mistake.” The same goes...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/03 12:25
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A while back I wrote a review of an animated feature from Japan—Tarō the Dragon Boywhere I said something along these lines: “You could watch this just for the nostalgia value, but that would be a mistake.” The same goes for Roger Leloup’s Yoko Tsuno series. Its design and storytelling harkens back to the days of Tintin and Johnny Quest, but it has far more than retro flair going for it. It’s one you get for your kids, and then you end up reading yourself out of sheer affection for it.

History lesson. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the word manga was not in the dictionary (let alone on the bestseller lists) and what most people knew about Japan was mostly confined to the business or cooking pages of the newspaper, I was still working through my bandes dessinés phase and devouring everything in sight since there was so infuriatingly little of it to begin with. Mom had given my brother and I copies of Tintin to keep us busy during a transatlantic flight (circa 1978), and after that I was hooked. I borrowed copies of the rest of the series from the library, got hooked on Astérix in the process, graduated to the likes of Heavy Metal and Epic, and added tomes by Enki Bilal (Nikopol) and Juan Gimenez (A Matter of Time) to my permanent collection.

And along the way, I stumbled across something called The Adventures of Yoko, Vic and Paul from the same publishers as Bilal and Gimenez (the now-defunct Catalan Communications). Yoko was a Japanese teenager who lived in Belgium and “worked in television”, and along with her two friends—Vic the competent straight man, Paul the comic relief—she got into any number of adventures that ranged from Nancy Drew-style mystery to wild and wooly SF in the “let’s go to far-off worlds but we need to be back in time for dinner” vein. Of course I dug it, and not just because Yoko was cute. And now the good folks at Cinebook have picked up the rights to Yoko, letting me pick up where I left off all those years ago and not forcing me to go read the darn things in French after all.

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Tags: Roger Leloup Yoko Tsuno bandes dessinés review


Books: Pluto Vol. #3

The more I read of Pluto, the less averse I am to the idea of remakes. Or, rather, of an artist of high caliber having his work revisited by another artist in the same stratosphere. Osamu Tezuka is about as...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/01 23:30
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The more I read of Pluto, the less averse I am to the idea ofremakes. Or, rather, of an artist of high caliber having his workrevisited by another artist in the same stratosphere. Osamu Tezuka isabout as up-there as manga artists get, and Naoki Urasawa has beenracing up the rungs of the same ladder for some time now. Pluto is Urasawa’s reworking of one of Tezuka’s best-loved stories from Astro-Boy (aka Tetsuwan Atomu), and the best thing I can say about it is that it does not for one moment feel like a “remake”. It stands alone.

Thethird volume is a frenzy of twofold plotting and character development,with a fair amount of page time occupied by Uran, Atom’s sister. Justas Atom himself stepped into the picture at the end of volume 1, Uran (short for Uranium, mayhaps?) popped in at the end of volume 2—justin time to calm down a batch of escaped zoo animals. She’s ascheerfully blithe as Atom is focused and serious, but maybe that’s justher way of dealing with her peculiar sensitivity towards things aroundher. She’s the sonar to Atom’s radar: he can sniff out a robot thatlooks like a human, and she can sense disturbances in the Force,sorta-kinda, that bespeak of bad tidings for both machines and men.

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Tags: Japan Naoki Urasawa Osamu Tezuka manga review


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