Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Latest News from the Front

Well, I didn't do a very good job at keeping this thing current. My excuses are typical: I just didn't have the motivation to keep up the pace, it took a lot of time and mental energy, and so on. Since I've had time to purchase a few more books since the last update, and thus refresh my stock of things to talk about, I'd like to warm up with some short spiels about current titles of interest. One of the things that makes writing full reviews difficult for me is that I often have to wrack my brain to form extra opinions to tie together into a legitimate "piece," so maybe by working shorter I can simply type out the entirety of my opinion in one place without any extra mental work.

Today's entry was sparked by the arrival of a new package of books, some of which I am quite excited about. I've been on a big Kazuo Umezu kick as of late. No doubt some of you will be familiar with his most famous creation, the post-apocalyptic tale of horror and madness, Drifting Classroom, currently in English courtesy of Viz. I've never read more than a book or two of it, but as part of their ongoing "Umezz Perfection" line, Shogakukan has started publishing a new, deluxe edition, the first of which arrived in my hands today. Compared to the hysterically ugly covers of all previous editions, this new one, with a solid red scheme including red gilding on the pages and a neat picture superimposed on said gilding, is unspeakably tasteful. At 700+ pages, it's a massive tome, and is arranged like the entire series is really one giant book; the table of contents has a listing for three total books (the other two forthcoming as of this writing), with the page numbers being cumulative over the series. It even, bizarrely enough, ends abruptly in the middle of a chapter, with the remainder apparently kicking off the next book. One gets the impression that were it not logistically impossible to print all 2,300 pages in one book, they would have done it that way. It's really an attractive package, and well worth the $20 cost.

Additionally, I've been reading a small, bunko edition of Umezu's My Name Is Shingo, which I am belatedly realizing might be in line for the same deluxe treatment as Drifting Classroom, if this Umezz Perfection line ends up being a career-spanning effort. It's the story of a young boy and girl who program an assembly robot and manage to help it achieve sentience. Given that it was written in the early '80s, the nuts and bolts of the story mechanic are kind of laughable, but that would be missing the point, because with Umezu, it's never about the how or why, but simply drinking in the otherworldly atmosphere and profoundly weird dimension that his work inhabits. As a perusal of Shaenon Garrity's Drifting Classroom write-up will reveal, Umezu has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but its effects are undeniably unique and instantly recognizable.

Other new acquisitions of particular interest (which I have not torn into yet) include Yoshiharu Tsuge's immortal classic, Neji-shiki (Screw Style), the Japanese edition of Akira, which I've only ever read in English, Shin Takahashi's latest book, Tom Sawyer, which is only marginally related to Twain's original, and a book titled Mankasu from the obnoxious idiot-child of the manga world, Gataro Man, best known(?) stateside for drawing the original manga that inspired the film Battlefield Baseball. Not being totally versed in his career works, I'm not sure if this manga is particularly special among his bibliography, but I should note that the title of this one, part of his tradition of incorporating his pen-name in the titles of all his books, is translated to the delightful handle, "Pussy Smegma."

Other, just slightly older releases which I have enjoyed immensely are the dual releases of the first two volumes of the Ikki series Children of the Sea and Dien Bien Phu. The former is the current series by naturalistic soul and all-around genius Daisuke Igarashi, well known for his titles Witches and Hanashippanashi. It's his first long-term epic, and though the first two (rather hefty) volumes cover a good amount of story, there's clearly quite a lot to go. This could be his shot at a legitimate hit, and I can't imagine that it will escape some kind of media adaptation in the future. The former title is a quirky take on the Vietnam War by illustrator/designer/manga-ka Daisuke Nishijima. As the link above will demonstrate, he has a very recognizable, cute and simplistic art-style which seems at odds with the rather bloody nature of his story, although I think the cognitive dissonance it creates is rather interesting. In addition to the uniquely "manga" take on the subject, with its caricatured characters and fantastical combat, Nishijima packs a lot of notes and background information about the culture and history of Vietnam at the end of the books, so despite being very quick reads, there is a lot to take in, overall.

Until next time!


Xavier Guilbert said...

Nice to see you back, Stephen.
One thing to mention about Shogakkan's Umezz Perfection reprint effort is the overall quality of the books. Large B5 format, good paper, refined covers ... it's really a new experience discovering Umezu's works that way (especially his art), and not in the cramped bunko volumes.
I'd have a special mention for the two-volume Nekome Kouzo (Cat-eyed Boy) which is as good as its retro-name suggests, and reminds me a little of Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitarou. The two books cover the three incarnations of the series, with different papers for each and bristol covers to separate them in the middle of the volume. A thing of beauty, really.

Regarding Tsuge, I was surprised to discover the extend of his work in the bibliography at the end of the yellow or red volume published by Seirinkogeisha, but I don't know how much of it is still in print. Definitely looking forward to reading your opinion on that piece.

flyingrobots said...

Yes! The difference between reading Shingo in bunko and Classroom in this alternate size (I think Shogakukan's site lists it as 4-6, which is somewhere between standard B6 and A5) is really startling and just reaffirms my displeasure with being forced to read anything in that tiny format. And if all the Perfection books are done this nicely, it's making me consider reaching out to those other books in the line.

Martin said...

Do you have any recommendations for absurd humor manga? Anything Monty Pythonish is fine, and I like stories that play with the usual rules of storytelling, perhaps going off into irrelevant and increasingly absurd tangents.

I like parts of Cromartie High School, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo and (especially) Gyagu Manga Biyori. Any others? I can read a bit of Japanese, so it doesn't have to be translated.

Kouros said...

Yes! Nice to see more updates, as I was afraid you'd stopped. I enjoy Umezu's works as well. I bought The Drifting Classroom in French, and I was a bit annoyed about the size. I'm glad to see that it's being reprinted in a larger format.

I really want to read Children of the Sea. Sadly, it's not out in French as far as I know, so I don't have a way to read it (yet).

Oh, and since I haven't commented before, thanks for the post on The World is Mine. I found out about it thanks to your recommendation, and I just ordered the Japanese edition (thanks for the info about aclimate solution, by the way). Now, if only I could read Japanese well enough to actually understand it. Oh, well, it'll be a nice incentive to focus more on learning the language.

Oh, and sorry for this unrelated question, but how is Gogo Monster? I'm thinking of buying the French version, but I don't know much about it.

flyingrobots said...

martin: I'm afraid that gag manga really isn't my forte. I do have several volumes of Cromartie, which I enjoy, but I stopped buying at some point once it was clear that the formula had run dry. I have written on this blog about two comedy authors that I enjoy: Naoki Karasawa and Tobira Oda. Karasawa is more conventional (but very skillful) comedy, while I think some of Oda's work might be up your alley. His big series Danchi Tomoo is more subtle than absurd, but I have two short story collections, Sotto Sukareru (そっと好かれる) and Otoko Royale (男ロワイヤル) which are much more potent and offbeat. See if you can get those from or the like, if you're willing to take a bit of an adventure.

kouros: Gogo Monster was really an odd experience. It's not actually a serial; it was drawn up entirely by his studio and put straight to book, and because of this I feel like he used the opportunity to create a story which was unlike any of his previous. I think it's easily his most difficult and enigmatic work and since I only read it once, I can't claim that I've really cracked its puzzle. It's about a young boy in school around the year that he "stops being a child." There is a LOT of symbolism and the whole thing has a very alien feel, like it moves by a rhythm that you can't quite follow, but despite that it still has some of Matsumoto's most sublime scenes and images in it, so if you're a real die-hard fan I don't see why not check it out... as long as you understand that it's quite difficult and possibly alienating.

Rumika said...

I'm glad you decided to continue, I really enjoy reading your reviews here. I'm also glad you mentioned the Umezz Perfection editions. I only looked at them briefly, but I wasn't sure if they were complete series or condensed versions of the stories crammed into a collection (since I saw there were only three volumes of Makoto-chan). I really want to check them out now, because the huge format and the fact that they're totally complete seems like a winning situation.

flyingrobots said...

rumika: Those Makoto-chan volumes you're referring to are actually Cho Makoto-chan which is a sequel of sorts that he started drawing in 1988. Apparently it wasn't too popular owing to being so different from the original after Umezu worked on other things for nearly a decade, so it ended up being rather short, as you can see. I'm not sure if the original is indeed slated to join the series, but the fact that one of his biggest hits is now being printed has my hopes high that they might tackle more than just odds and ends of Umezu's career. said...

I realise it's a bit rude to complain, but I really miss reading up on all your obscure manga writings! If you find the time, please update :'D

Anonymous said...

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