Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Some Things I've Read Recently

Since I'm just banging this out before bedtime and with the momentum of a beer or two behind me, I'll run through these real quick in the order I see them on my shelf:

Goodnight Punpun 1-2 (Inio Asano)

Despite Asano's insistence that he was starting this with a fresh outlook, it's really quite familiar territory for him. The cartoony, iconic protagonist is sometimes comical and sometimes endearing, but otherwise isn't so different from his past outings, just starting from an earlier age. It's a charming and surprisingly affecting work that covers commonly-tread ground, but with Asano's patented sense of style and polish. The crusty record store clerk types among us will scoff and say that he's losing his edge and they've got a point, but for now I'm still cruising the wave.

Mysterious Girlfriend X 1-2 (Riichi Ueshiba)

These books actually arrived to me courtesy of a generous stranger (who I'm sure will see this at some point). I don't own anything else by Ueshiba but I'm vaguely familiar with his other material. We discussed it for a bit as a follow-up of sorts and found agreement that it seems to be a rather calculated attempt to gain a hit for Ueshiba, who's usually a little too weird and fetishized for mainstream acceptance (as far as the Afternoon readership goes)...but it's a very savvy attempt, and it seems to be working. Of course, you could say the same thing about Punpun above, but the difference here being that I generally dig Asano's shtick, while Ueshiba's just creeps me out a bit too much. Call it the hipster vs. otaku dynamic.

Kyomusume 1 (Kon Kimura)

Another Afternoon title, this from the author of the totally ignored Kobe Zaiju. It's frankly nearly unadaptable for a Western audience, thanks to its overabundance of tiny, between-panel vertical narration columns and truly bizarre and unmatched sense of humor... Which is a shame, because in a perfect world, it would be adapted and mindblowing. Essentially it's about a "huge girl" who is in every way (size, attitude, sexual appetite) just a hairy-chested caveman, with a "loli boyfriend" who is in every way (demureness, innocence, speed to tears) a helpless damsel. There are plenty of other twisted characters but the only thing that really remains constant is the devastatingly sarcastic and wordplay-saturated commentary. It's very dense stuff but pure quality. Worth at least three times the money you pay for it.

Ode to Kirihito 1-4 (Osamu Tezuka)

I'll be the first to admit that for a guy who's more well-read than 99.99% of English-speaking manga readers, I'm woefully unfamiliar with Tezuka. For one, where do you start? Essentially I've only ever sampled two very polar opposites of his career: Parts of Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy), the pinnacle of his early, child-oriented commercial works, and Adolf, one of his very serious, dramatic stories at the very end of his life. As much as I enjoyed Adolf, Kirihito totally blows it out of the water with its furious visual experimentation and rich themes. A lot of the visual work on display here--bizarre paneling, bold imagery--is brilliant and surprisingly fresh for a series from the early 1970s. Unfortunately I have a feeling that it comes off as "fresh" because the commercial manga community didn't have the guts to fill the void Tezuka created behind him with this material. Great story, great comic.

Beshari Gurashi 4-5 (Masanori Morita)

Morita's comedian manga, which flopped in Jump and had to be suspended when he was unable to keep up the weekly pace, picked up again in Young Jump where Morita's status with a generation of dudes stoked on Rokudenashi Blues and Rookies would be more forgiving of a lax schedule. My own personal interest in this series picked up momentum with these volumes too, especially now that it has gone past "funny teenager wants to be a comedian" into "funny teenager struggles to be a comedian." It doesn't sound like much of a difference, but the addition of big-time pro comedians and the presence of the comedy industry in the story has suddenly made it far more fascinating and well-defined. I've told people multiple times that this is a very hard story to grok for those who aren't familiar with or interested in the Japanese brand of comedy (and it has to be said that the actual comedy routines in the manga aren't that funny, much like say, the music scenes in Beck aren't that rockin'), but it's developed into a rewarding little series for those who do.

Chinomi 1-2 (Ryuta Yoshinaga)

Those who know me personally can attest that somehow, despite my utter disregard for the entire world of vampire-related fiction, it certainly has its dashing, elegant fangs stuck in my helpless neck (kill me now). Well let it be known that there is one vampire story in the entire world that I can tolerate, and I have found it. Chinomi eschews the time-honored traditions of vampires as either a) gothic aristocrats who ravage beautiful women for the titillation of unsatisfied housewives and frumpy D&D chicks everywhere, or b) inhuman, bestial monsters that rip shit to pieces for the uproarious enjoyment of drunken/blazed nu-metal dudes, and instead finds a comfortable compromise in a brand new endeavor, c) greasy, dim-witted ex-grunge gen-x slacker vampires!
Chinomi is the manga equivalent of finding an awesome band's demo tape, and realizing that no one else will ever enjoy it the way you do, and nothing else the band will do in the future can top it. It's just got too much character to ever be successfully replicated by the author. Yoshinaga is clearly putting everything he can think of in this manga. His art isn't particularly good; it has its quirks which will be interesting to comix nerds but isn't nearly attractive enough to interest a widespread audience. Instead, he compensates by simply cramming every page and panel with an impossible amount of detail, often making it difficult, if not nearly impossible to decipher what is happening. There is a ton of text and a ton of text bubbles. Bizarre references abound and I know that some people reading this will appreciate that in a single chapter, I spotted mentions (through dialogue or art) of Steven Seagal, John Candy and Don fucking Vito (of Jackass)! There are some moment where you cannot help but feel the cosmic connection to another man's mind, and I've learned to stop doubting those moments.