Blog posts in Books for February 2012:

Book Reviews: Japan (Buronson / Kentaro Miura)

Kentaro Miura and Buronson team up for a collaboration that's if anything even worse than the last one I saw from them.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/02/28 10:00
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Another instance of Miura (Berserk) lending his considerable talents as an illustrator to a nearly-worthless story. The last time he did that was with King of Wolves, also with a story by Buronson, but Japan is worse.

In some ways this is Wolves turned inside-out: a gallery of characters are flung into the future instead of the past, where Japan has turned into a wasteland and all the natives have been ground under the heel of a pan-European dictatorship. Their one hope is a meat-headed yakuza (at least he knows he's a meathead) who doles out Justice and Righteous Vengeance in equal measure.

The story's dumb enough, but there's also generous dollops of crass sexism and pinhead sociology to boot. At least when Kazuo Koike did this kind of thing (Crying Freeman), or when Ryoichi Ikegami drew it (ditto, plus Wounded Man, Sanctuary and Buronson's own Strain), it had the saving grace of being enjoyably smarmy pulp trash. The whole thing feels like a dry run for a series that was never commissioned, and thank goodness for that: Miura's far enough behind on Berserk as it is.

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Tags: Buronson Japan Kentaro Miura books manga review

Book Reviews: Hell (Yasutaka Tsutsui)

Yasutaka Tsutsui ("Paprika")'s satire on the afterlife remains stuck on the level of an interesting idea rather than a fully-developed work.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/02/27 09:00
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A plotless meditation on the concept of hell (or, strictly speaking, purgatory) as seen from a Japanese point of view. Several people who have recently died find themselves in a place that is much like the life they just left behind, but with some key differences. Everyone else's thoughts are readable; past and present intermix freely; and the things you worry about have a nasty tendency to come true. The only way out is to stop struggling -- a conceit that students of Buddhism will recognize immediately, but Tsutsui uses it for satirical ends all the way through.

Maybe Tsutsui's brand of satire doesn't translate into English as effectively as it reads in Japanese, or maybe Hell is just not one of his better works. I'm leaning more towards the latter, especially after having gotten my hands on the English edition of Paprika, which shows him off in much better form. Here, he has a lot of ideas, but they remain little more than that. This is a rare case of a short book that cries out to be expanded into a longer one instead of vice versa.

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Tags: Japan Yasutaka Tsutsui books fantasy review satire science fiction

Book Reviews: MM9: Monster Magnitude 9 (Hiroshi Yamamoto)

A love letter to Japanese monster movies, with some clever mythology of its own that could support a more ambitious story.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/02/21 09:00
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A love-letter to Japanese kaiju, or the giant monsters we all know and love, from Godzilla all the way on down to Varan and everything in between. In a slightly-alternate present, Japan has a special government division, the MMD, to deal with giant-monster attacks of all varieties. Like any government agency their work is underfunded, thankless, and tiring; their sole reward for sparing Tokyo from destruction yet again is often nothing more than a hostile round of press coverage and their next paycheck.

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Tags: Haikasoru Japan books kaiju review

Book Reviews: No Longer Human Vol. #3 (Usamaru Furuya, Osamu Dazai)

The manga adaptation of Japan's "Requiem for a Dream" comes to an unforgiving close, just as it should.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/02/11 22:30
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[Volume 1 and Volume 2 of this series are also reviewed here.]


Back before No Longer Human had even its first volume released in English, I went and copped all three volumes of the original untranslated Japanese edition. I read the first two of them back-to-back on one train ride back home, and I read the third a month or two later, while sitting in Bryant Park on a cool autumn afternoon (an incongruous setting for enjoying such a punishing piece of work). In short, I knew what I was getting myself into when Vertical, Inc.’s English translation arrived, but that didn’t make the experience any less emotionally shattering.

It says something that I can finish the story, find flaws with it that bothered me on a conceptual or dramatic level, and yet still see the whole as being unassailable. I’ve since found that’s the only sort of perfect you’re likely to get in this world: one where you can see something’s flaws all the more clearly because you love the whole, and in the end you forgive the whole those flaws because the entire package is worth the effort.

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Tags: Japan Osamu Dazai Usamaru Furuya Vertical Inc. books manga review

Book Reviews: Black Jack. Vol. #17 (Osamu Tezuka)

The end. And it’s a fitting end to a manga series that’s always stood poised on the knife-edge between sweet fairy-tale simplicity and the tougher sensibilities of stories for mature audiences. Black Jack might well have been Osamu Tezuka’s finest...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/02/11 00:38
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The end. And it’s a fitting end to a manga series that’s always stood poised on the knife-edge between sweet fairy-tale simplicity and the tougher sensibilities of stories for mature audiences. Black Jack might well have been Osamu Tezuka’s finest work by dint of how it combines the accessibility of works for younger readers (Astro Boy, Unico) and the sophistication and ambition of his experimental productions (Phoenix). Now’s the time to go back to the beginning, if you haven’t already, and experience the whole of this saga of a black-market medical man from start to finish.

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

Book Reviews: GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. #1 (Tohru Fujisawa)

The further (and ever the more over the top) adventures of Great Teacher Onizuka, as he tries to turn around a whole special school full of kids abandoned by their own parents.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/02/04 00:19
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If one were to travel into the universe of GTO: 14 Days in Shonan and look up Badass on Wikipedia, I would find the article deficient if a picture of Eikichi Onizuka didn’t appear as the illustration of choice on that page.

GTO stands for Great Teacher Onizuka, and the adventures of Onizuka and his stupefying excursions into rock-ribbed machismo have been chronicled in both a manga and its subsequent anime adaptation. Both were translated into English, but are now sadly out of print. Enter Vertical, Inc., who have been looking to broaden their manga offerings. Rather than reissue all of GTO, which would have been problematic at best, they elected instead to bring English-speaking audiences this previously-untranslated follow-up series. It’s a gamble, but not a reckless one, and the presence of previous GTO stories doesn’t create a major barrier for newcomers.

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Tags: Great Teacher Onizuka Japan Vertical Inc. manga review shonen

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