Archive for June, 2011
There’s a heck of a lot more to manga than magical girls, horror, and sports. There’s a whole underground scene in manga, as weird as anything R. Crumb ever put to paper.
We English-readers get a glimpse into that world with the first volume of Ax, an anthology of short manga pieces published in the experimental/alternative manga magazine of the same name. The roster of talent varies from Yoshihiro Tatsumi (whose autobiographical A Drifting Life made such waves last year) to folks I’ve never heard of.
Ax is for experimenters. The art is often crude, sex frequent, and many of the stories don’t seem to go anywhere.
But it’s different, and that’s the point.
I’ve been trying to analyze this book for weeks now, and I haven’t found a way to do it. It can’t be summarized; the stories and art styles are too different. I can’t review each story; there are three dozen of them, and the individual reviews would become repetitive.
But then, a collection like this thrives partly on its surprises, on many small doses of bizarre and thought-provoking images.
Is this volume deep? Each story is insufficiently long to really dive deeply into any one subject or character. A few stories stand out for psychological interest: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s “Love’s Bride” and Katsuo Kawai’s “Push Pin Woman” explore the sad pitfalls of romantic relationships in completely different ways. But what to say about Namie Fujieda’s “The Brilliant Ones,” a story of a student who one day explodes into wriggling worms, drawn in a style that wouldn’t look out of place in Shonen Jump? Or Mitsuhiko Yoshida’s straight fairy tale adaptation of ”The Hare and the Tortoise?”
So I come back to the concept of surprise. Ax is full of strange art styles and unexpected plot twists. And that’s okay with me.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s been drawing manga for decades, but he got his big break in America a few years ago with A Drifting Life, especially after it won two Eisner awards in 2010. America is now getting more of his works, including this collection.
The Push Man and Other Stories is a collection of short manga stories, most of them 11 pages long, all written and drawn by Tatsumin in the 1960′s. Each is a modern, realistic story about ordinary people dealing with blue collar lives.
The artwork features simple, clean character designs and rich, detailed backgrounds. The contrast is sometimes striking, and is a wonderful metaphor for the stories themselves. The characters are typically simple people living in complex situations.
My primary complaint lies in Tatsumi’s story structure. Most of the stories end abruptly, as if we’re missing a final page or two. Moreover, the climaxes aren’t merely
Perhaps this was Tatsumi’s intent, but I had to ask: why these moments? It’s the manga equivalent of a movie that just films people exiting a train. Sure, one can fantasize about the lives of each individual as they stride or stumble or walk or run, but that’s all the film lets you do.
FictionThatMatters’ review points to two recurring themes in The Push Man: powerlessness and isolation. Those certainly appear, as does an overpowering sense of displacement. The characters just don’t know who they are or what they should be doing. Moreover, their actions seem pointless: statements against power are quickly reversed.
If you can get past the fundamentally
Warning: The following is about blogging, not anime or manga.
To quote from the post:
…how can one describe such slippery ideas as melody, rhythm, timbre and such, which provoke such strong emotions but defy easy linguistic pigeonholing
Even when I love the look of a series, I find it very hard to string together the right words to explain why, or to at least describe it to a somewhat accurate degree.
The key to the difficulty lies in the adjectives:
…defy easy linguistic pigeonholing…
…I find it very hard to string together the right words…
Sure, it’s hard.
I wanted to be one of those bloggers I read about in magazines, the bloggers who launched a blog and, after 3 months or 6 months, had 10,000 readers and a growing pile of Google ad revenue.
The reality: It’s really hard. There’s no easy pigeonholing, and it is very very hard to string together the words properly. I’ve had to push myself to do it anyway, to keep up with topics I don’t care about (I can’t believe how often I read ANN these days), to analyze a frame or a concept I wouldn’t normally think about, to generally work harder than I want to.
And I’m still working. I’m still challenging myself. This is not to say I’m awesome; it’s to say that this is my path.
If you’re struggling, I think the best advice comes from Robert Frost: The best way out is always through.
I’m pulling for you.
Funimation launched a new website design recently. The design is a bit cramped and slow, but certainly easy to navigate.
With some trepidation and a certain girding of my loins, I headed over to the new forum.
The conversation is civil and reasonable. When folks ask questions, the answers come from official sources, ANN, and the like.
I wonder what they’ve done to make the discourse flow this well. Granted, all of the content comes from their closed beta, which must have been strongly curated.
I hope they continue with their strong curation. The web needs more of that.
When I started watching the recent Iron Man anime series, I stopped after 3 episodes and recorded a disappointed initial review. Iron Man came across as a monster-of-the-week show that got its characters right but its pacing wrong. I was bored.
Then I finished the series, and recorded a much more positive review. The show finally came together, and the last half worked beautifully.
Which led to a few interesting comments. Folks were, shall we say, surprised at my change of heart.
Some folks complain when I review just the first few episodes or volumes of a work. “That’s not fair,” they say.
But my first review wasn’t wrong.
My first review looked at the first three episodes, and formed an opinion based on the information presented there. The first three episodes were monster-of-the-week stories. They were uninteresting.
If a show is uninteresting for its first 3 episodes, that’s an important data point. As long as you, the reader, understand the context of the review–how many episodes or volumes the reviewer saw or read–you can glean useful information.
I’d love to watch every episode and read every volume of every anime or manga that comes across my desk. But there are some works that don’t appear to be worth my time. I maintain that it’s useful to state that.
Keirii Kashii left the following comment, which got me thinking:
Manga is definately classier than things like Fairly Odd Parents and such. American cartoons tend to have cheap jokes, and worse art.
First off, no offense to Keirii, but it’s a bit unfair to compare one society’s comics with another society’s animation. They’re too different. Comparing manga to American comics would be much more fruitful, and there’s plenty of classy fare in American comics.
However, when you compare Japan’s and America’s television animation, the statement is absolutely true.
I wouldn’t call American art worse, as that implies an objective standard. A nice still from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends has plenty of charm and artistic merit.
But American cartoons certainly don’t have the visual finesse of anime, even comparing kids’ shows like Foster’s Home and Fairly OddParents to Japanese kids’ shows like Astro Boy and Precure. American animation tends to have much more limited and more simplistic facial expressions than anime. Anime characters can show a surprisingly subtle array of emotions simultaneously: surprise, fear, and determination, for example.
On the gripping hand, allow me to defend American cartoons for a moment.
First, American cartoons have a much more limited stable of animation talent. Japan has been producing dozens of new anime series every year for decades. America sees far fewer shows, and many of those were outsourced to Japan. So the talent pool is smaller in America.
Also, American television animation has a long tradition of extremely limited animation, thanks to
American action animation is often outsourced to Japan. But that’s the animation that often stretches animators’ muscles the most, leading to a certain amount of atrophy in TV animators’ abilities.
Moreover, modern American cartoons aren’t trying to look pretty. Artistic flair isn’t required to sell well; look at successful shows like Ren & Stimpy, Rugrats, and The Fairly OddParents. That’s not a complaint; it’s a matter of a certain art style just working in America.
Published in: 1996–2000 (Japan), 2007–present (America)
American Publisher: Del Rey
Genres: Shoujo, magical girl
Premise: Amu has trouble being herself, and finds 3 eggs which hatch into SD versions of who she wants to be
Show x Show: It’s Cardcaptor Sakura meets Imadoki!
Volumes: 12, still being released in America
What’s it about? Early adolescence, and its changes: personality changes, body changes, and blossoming romance.
How obvious are the themes? Very. The little SD versions of Amu (her “Guardian Characters”) are precise metaphors for the kinds of person she wants to be: cheerful and energetic, thoughtful and artistic, etc. She can even transform into
Then again, this is a manga for tween girls, so tremendous subtlety would be bad.
Is there a plot? Yes! Amu’s school has an elite student council, all of whom just happen to have their own eggs and their own Guardian Characters. Meanwhile, a hunt is afoot for a special egg, led by mysterious individuals who, well, create various problems.
How do the characters look? Cute. Everyone here is in elementary school, so cuteness abounds as it should.
How about the art in general? There is a lot of screen tone in this series. Moreover, the
Is this one of those manga with sexy elementary school students? No, though the outfits are occasionally a little daring for kids this age. The image on the right, for example, is one of Amu’s transformation outfits.
There are also some sexual allusions in the dialogue in volume 2, to my surprise. On reflection, though, this is the story of an adolescent girl falling for several guys, and girls in Japan sure seem to be aware of sexuality.
The series studiously avoids prurience, at least.
Are the relationships stupid? They’re pretty basic, but props to
Can I show it to my Mom? Sure.
Can I show it to my kid brother? Nah, too girly.
Can I show it to a
How’s the dialogue? No problems, though it can be a little drab. The main characters do have distinctive voices (helped by their SD versions).
How’s the comedy? There’s a lot of comedy, more so than in most shoujo I’ve read. Most of Amu’s interactions with her Guardian Characters–at least in these volumes–involves her frustration with them, and comical situations in which they go against her wishes. Which, sure, is part of their purpose: to shake Amu up.
Does it have any memorable moments? Nothing comes to me as I write this review. The story flows along.
Availability: Del Rey has published nearly all of the manga in America, and the published volumes are readily available on sites like Amazon and RightStuf. Crunchyroll currently streams the anime adaptation.