Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This is the worst blog ever... dying out gracefully!

So in the almost-year since the last time, a Book Off (a Japanese chain for used books/CDs/DVDs/games) has opened about 15 minutes away from me, and I've come across some really interesting stuff there. It's also very useful in keeping my book collection at a manageable size, because despite adding two cases to the only free wall of my room, I'm just about at capacity, and some things I'd rather get rid of so that other people can read them, rather than throw them away. Some of my odds and ends are actually extraneous -- I bought last year's Monster perfect edition with color pages and an A5 size, which renders my original volumes obsolete -- and some of them are just plain crappy. I've set aside the books to be sold off, but I'm trying to reread each of them before I give them up, so that I can decide for good if I care to read them again, or if they deserve a second chance. I'd like to say a few things about them and some of the awesome shit I've dug up in the store, so let's get on with it, before I grow bored again!

Miraizer Ban (Bunko Edition) 1-2 by Leiji Matsumoto

This set of books is one that I'm giving up, though in all honesty it deserves to be read. I first borrowed it from a friend back in high school and lost it (sorry Jason) but ordered it again years later. In a way it's almost interchangable with Galaxy Express 999 or any number of other "Leijiverse" titles. You'll recognize all the familiar calling cards: a confused, goony dwarf of a hero; an exotic, elfin heroine; metaphysical wanderings throughout the universe and a whooooole lot of water pressure meters disguised as futuristic technology.

In this one, the titular Ban is put through an experiment that fuses his consciousness with all his descendants and ancestors through the great "ring of time," and most of the manga consists of him rocketing around and experiencing events through various personas from before life on Earth to other planets around the galaxy. As usual per Matsumoto's distinguishable style, the different settings and scenarios are much more imaginitive and fanciful than the hard nuts-and-bolts sci-fi that came to popularity in the '80s (Miraizer Ban was from '76-78), and part of his head-in-the-clouds style of storytelling is the ephemeralness of earthly concerns like plot, characters or logic. Leiji's oeuvre occupies that same niche that psychedelic music and film do -- if you're willing to go along for the ride without questioning, it can be heady stuff, but if you're sucked out of the mood it's very hard to take it seriously again. The setting of an immortal man who lives throughout his descendants until the end of time actually works well for the pace that Matsumoto gives the work -- anytime Ban gets into serious danger, his consciousness pings through space and time to another point on the ring -- but the brevity and interchangability of the scenarios means that only a few stand out and the rest become a blur. In terms of longlasting artistic value per volume (a metric I'm considering more and more as I find myself running out of room) it's probably more worthwhile than Three-Nine's 21 volumes, but I think I've gotten all the enjoyment I will ever get from it.

The Outsider by Go Tanabe

This was actually a book that I bought from Book Off and almost immediately sold back. It had a cool concept -- manga editions of short stories by Western writers -- and the title piece was from a Lovecraft story, but the execution was actually quite weak. Finding out that it wasn't a Cthulu story was a disappointment too, but the real killer was the awkward art. All the characters had identical facial features and models, as if the artist was tracing photos of a wooden marionette, and few other distinguishing marks between the characters made it hard to tell what was supposed to be happening. Add to that a general clumsiness in panel layouts and it was just painful. When you consider the concept of a Japanese artist making comics out of prose stories from English, Russian and Czech writers, there are basically two outcomes that spring to mind: either "this could be a really fascinating idea" or "this could be a really bad idea," and a bad idea it was. Unfortunately, I can't remember the author's kanji and google images is not helping with the cover, so you'll have to go without.

Moyashimon by Masayuki Ishikawa

This one I am most absolutely not selling away, but rather translating at the moment for Del Rey. I'd heard the title mentioned years ago without ever being aware of the concept of the manga, and knowing that it was a title from Kodansha's Evening, I made a mental note to check it out when the anime adaptation was announced a few years back. I archived the animated series (psst that means I downloaded it, don't tell anyone) for a rainy day, and then the offer to translate the manga fell into my lap. It's hard for a quick explanation to do it justice, but the most efficient way I can manage is to put it in a mathematical equation with Genshiken. We're all familiar with Genshiken (if you're not you probably shouldn't be reading this blog) and its combination of college setting, subtle characterization and subculture errata. To arrive at Moyashimon, simply replace the "otaku" field with "microbiology," dial down the in-joke factor and make it more educational and outsider-friendly, replace cosplay boobs with adorable merchandising icons for the eye-catcher, and then double (no, triple) the amount of text. The manga is honestly great and sadly, will probably not garner a fraction of the attention it deserves upon its release, but make no mistake -- it does deserve it. The art is dense and detailed, the story crams an astonishing amount of information down your throat, and the characters slowly grow under your skin. Best of all -- in my authoritative position as translator -- is Ishikawa's hilariously dry sense of humor, which oozes from every sentence.

Unlike virtually every other manga, which remove all the eye-catching and generally useless summaries, character bios and author's messages from the serialized magazine chapters when it comes time to collect them into books, Moyashimon retains all of them. It's pretty apparent at first glance that this editorial decision came from the need to keep all of the microbe bios that appear in the sidebars, as these are very rarely ever fully described within the dialogue of the story. However, the more you see of the other information, the more you appreciate the author's wickedly understated and rewarding sense of humor. Short character bios will appear on the sides of pages in every single chapter, yet there are subtle differences every single time that make it worth poring over each and every one. Add all of this bonus information to an already dialogue-packed story, and this a book you can truly sink your teeth into. Since the market for manga in America seems to have spoken, and spoken for tweeny-bopper stories about Hogwarts ripoffs and puppy-dog crushes, it's rare that you'll get the chance to translate something truly challenging and rewarding, and Moyashimon is the sort of thing that I dream about working on. I got to pull out all the stops, and it's easily the most impressive and entertaining piece of work I've done. Be on the lookout for "Moyasimon" (the English title is slightly altered, apparently at the unyielding request of the author) whenever it hits shelves.

Unfortunately, the anime version suffers a fair amount in comparison to the original. I was initially stunned at the incredible opening sequence, which easily stands among the very best examples of its kind this decade. However, the presentation quickly drops after this point. It gets a passing grade overall because they did a fine job with the depiction of the actual microbes, but the bland acting, bland animation and bland directing really do a disservice to what is quite a clever and subtle series. Needless to say, if you did happen across the anime and find yourself disappointed by a pedestrian treatment of an intriguing topic, consider giving it a second chance with the manga.

I'll have more stuff to post in the next few days!


Smashingtofu said...

Good to see you back!

Great news about Moyashimon! I can't read Japanese so I can't touch on the manga but I did enjoy the anime; nevertheless I'll pick up the manga on the day of its release and I look forward to your translations : )

I didn't know you translate manga as your job... have you done anything else you felt were noteworthy?

Also, I enjoy your blog man and keep the comics love going. It'll probably make your ego reach unpredecented levels but hell your stuff has helped inspire me as an artist and a comics nerd. We <3 ya. You the shit. Nevermind you left us dry by not updating for an year but you still the shit so pull some strings and get Shinkichi Kato (is love) books published here wink wink

I have a question for you:

Viz announced Gogo monster but is is all that hot or do you think they should've went with another title by Taiyo Matsumoto? I can't say I'm familiar with Gogo monster to be honest.

Rizzah said...

Yay Stephen! Glad to see you're back to blogging. I really hope you keep posting as your reviews of manga are the most insightful and interesting in the manga blogosphere (in my opinion). You should post a list of what you're selling in case anyone wants to grab some stuff from you. We don't all live down the street from a Book-off, you know...

flyingrobots said...

ST: Well, I do have my profession listed in the blog's subtitle... I've worked on my fair share of turds but I'd say that starting out with Beck and Blame for Tokyopop was a pretty cool way to get into the biz. Nothing else I've done since then was that interesting until Moyashimon came along. I'm in the middle of some neat assignments now but they're still under wraps.

I'm honestly really surprised by the whole Gogo Monster thing. If Viz is telling the truth when they say that Number Five (probably the easiest Matsumoto title to market without a cross-media tie-in) was their worst selling title EVER, I don't know how they're going to be successful with his most difficult and unmarketable book. Maybe it's just a pet project for one of the staff members there -- scratch that, it CERTAINLY has to be the case. It's still cool because anything Taiyo Matsumoto does is gold, and if they successfully reproduce all the details of the Japanese binding and such it'll be one hell of an attractive book. I don't know why I'm complaining at all, but it just seems like if they're willing to throw money at awesome books that nobody will buy, they should do it more often!

Ryan: I wasn't planning on attempting to actually sell stuff to people online, mostly because my Paypal account won't let me accept payments (I'd have to upgrade to seller account and probably pay some extra fees or some other bs like that) and Ebay just sucks in general. But if anyone is really that interested maybe we can work something out.

Looking through the box I've been setting stuff aside in, this is what I'm considering letting go of:

Monster 8-18 - Naoki Urasawa
Miraizer Ban 1-2 - Leiji Matsumoto
Cue 1-3 - Katsura Murakami
Sayuri 1-go 1-5 - Katsura Murakami
Freesia 1-8 - Jiro Matsumoto
Keep on Vibrating - Jiro Matsumoto
Hagishiri Kyudan - Sensha Yoshida
Tokyo Flowchart 1 - Eiji Miruno
Esper Family +1 - Eiji Miruno
Sansan-roku 1 - Fumiyo Kono
Uroshima Monogatari - Yoji Fukuyama
Demeking - Takashi Imashiro
Minoru Furuya Super Remix Best 1-2
Kotae wa 3-tsu 1-2 - Tondabayashi
Between You and I 1-3 - Nakaba Suzuki
Dog Dog Dog 1 - Akira Saso & Mangetsu Hanamura
Shiroi Kumo & Hana-boro (Flower Cookies) - Hisae Iwaoka
Hallucinations from the Womb - Mohiro Kitoh
Hatsukanezumi no Jikan (Hour of the Mice) 1-4 - Kei Tome
Natsunokumo 1-8 - Rokuro Shinofusa
The Battery 1-4 - Kaiji Kawaguchi

I think that's all of it so far... whew. Like I said, I'll probably write about all of these in one way or another before I get rid of them.

Jacek Bełc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xavier Guilbert said...

Great to see you back, Stephen. There are so little people introducing offbeat or strange or interesting manga in the ocean of the Japanese production that it was sad to see this blog go. Looking forward to reading more from you.
-- Xavier

David Goodwin said...

Very cool that you're the translator for Moyashimon, Stephen. Also great to hear about the art, as that's been one of the main points of praise from the few English comments about the book.

Definitely look forward to reading more of your posts again.

Frikki said...

Moyashimon really is brilliant. Unfortunately I only picked it up recently, and just the first book, while passing through Narita on my way back to Iceland indefinitely.

So I had to call in some favors (read: beg) and have the rest bought in book off sent (kill time until it arrives by straining my eyes reading jpegs).

which brings me to whole point. Have you read any of his other stuff and if so is it as good?

flyingrobots said...

Frikki, I haven't looked too hard into his stuff but AFAIK he only has a short story collection and Moyashimon. He just started a series called Junketsu no Maria in a brand new (bimonthly?) Afternoon supplementary magazine, seems like a cross between Claymore and Vinland Saga, vaguely European fantasy thing but with his usual sense of humor. Seemed okay after a quick skim but it also struck me that it might be him saying, "okay I've already won over the critics and science nerds, now I'm going to win over the otaku."

Silver Moon said...


I just realized that you might be the ONLY human being on this planet who has attempted to translate Another Monster. This might be a bit unrelated.... but I was hoping that I could appeal to you to continue. I respect your reasons for dropping it. But I would still like to request.... just in case.

Bream Halibut said...

nice (undead) blog. looking forward to moyashimon.


Martha said...

I'm reading Moyasimon now, and the detail and scientific in-group info are truly awesome! I hope it gets the attention it deserves - and maybe sells a few bacteria plushies, too.

Let me plug here another manga, Tokyopop's Manga Sutra, which has similarly detailed info about sexuality. I didn't translate this, but was one of the adaptors/consultants who helped with the subject background.

Anonymous said...

Can you translate Another Monster again? It would be greatly appreciated. I have been dying to know about the interviews with the other characters.