Tezuka’s “Apollo’s Song” explores love, with stunning visuals

By Kory Cerjak

Title: Apollo’s Song
Author: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical

apollossong_queenOsamu Tezuka: the man, the legend, the God of Manga and the Godfather of Anime. Born in 1928 in Toyonaka, Tezuka is perhaps the most well-known figure in the manga/anime cultural pantheon. I’ll skip some of the finer details and move to 1946. In 1946, Tezuka was just graduating from medical school and had to make a decision: medicine or comics. He loved both fields, but loved one just a little more. He got his degree, but ultimately decided to pursue comics. In 1952, Astro Boy began its syndication in Shonen magazine. The rest, as they say, is history.

Apollo’s Song opens with an amazing visual metaphor of 500,000,000 people all clambering to become the king to the one queen. The metaphor ends up being of a sperm and eggs, and is used really effectively to represent humankind as a whole, in the sense that only one out of 500,000,000 people will be that special one. But it’s not just Continue reading Tezuka’s “Apollo’s Song” explores love, with stunning visuals

Sex, drugs, and vanity in “Helter Skelter”

By Kory Cerjak

Title: Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly
Author: Kyoko Okazaki
Publisher: Vertical

helterskelterKyoko Okazaki is a relatively well-known figure in the Japanese manga market. However, given that her most famous works are josei titles (which historically haven’t done well in the States), I hadn’t heard of her until Vertical announced they would be putting out Helter Skelter and Pink. A lot of her titles are published in French, though. According to Wikipedia, and you’d have to talk to someone like Vertical’s Ed Chavez for more detail, Okazaki is one of the spearheads to the trend of shojo/josei manga (especially in the late ’80s and ’90s) regarding “gal” (gyaru) manga, which is about girls but also about sex and drugs.

Helter Skelter is about a young(?) woman named Liliko who has undergone extensive plastic surgery to achieve her current look. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was Continue reading Sex, drugs, and vanity in “Helter Skelter”

#371 “Nana”: Don’t hate it because it’s shojo

nana“What?!” I hear you say. “Deconstructing Comics doing a whole show on a girls’ manga?” Ye of little faith! Have we ever steered you wrong? It may look like nothing but a sappy romance comic, but Ai Yazawa’s Nana features realistic, conflicted characters who deal with romance, infidelity, coming of age, fame, and rock & roll from all angles. It also boasts some fantastic storytelling techniques, so there’s plenty here for comics fans of all stripes to enjoy. Tim and Kory discuss.

“Boys over Flowers”: Inspiring, but with distracting flaws

By Kory Cerjak

Title: Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango)
Author: Yoko Kamio
Publisher: Viz Media

Boys Over FlowersIn 1992—one year removed from what is possibly the biggest shojo sensation ever, Sailor MoonBoys Over Flowers (known in Japan as Hana Yori Dango) was first published in Margaret by Shueisha in Japan. Eleven years later, Viz Media published it here in North America. These are two of the most influential shojo manga of the 1990s (alongside Fruits Basket and Kare Kano, among others). And while Sailor Moon might be the franchise that’s survived after all this time, it’s Boys Over Flowers that’s the top selling manga of all time, according to ComiPress. I’ve talked about Kare Kano already, and now I’ll talk about HanaDan, as the fans call it.

HanaDan is about Tsukushi Makino, a middle-class high school student, going to a high-class private school. Her father is stuck at his position and Tsukushi’s parents hope that she can meet people who will elevate their status and make a better life for them.

Fans nowadays may see the premise and relate it to Ouran High School Host Club (also published by Viz), but its story and ultimate goal could not be more different from Ouran. From the get-go, author Yoko Kamio works to establish not just a strong female Continue reading “Boys over Flowers”: Inspiring, but with distracting flaws

Urasawa’s classic “Monster” to return to print

By Kory Cerjak

Title: Monster
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media

monster2Naoki Urasawa is one of the most prolific mangaka in Japan and his manga have won two Eisner Awards (specifically “Best US Edition of International Material – Asia” in 2011 and 2013 for 20th Century Boys). The award puts him alongside greats such as Kazuo Koike/Goseki Kojima, Katsuhiro Otomo, Shigeru Mizuki, and Osamu Tezuka. And the accolades for Monster aren’t just from the west. Monster has won the Excellence Prize in the Japan Media Arts Festival in 1997, the Grand Prize of the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize, and won the General category in the 46th Shogakukan Manga Award. But the manga stands on its own and hardly needs accolades to prove to anyone of how good it is.

Unfortunately, the manga and anime haven’t done any groundbreaking numbers here in the US and the anime’s license has lapsed (which was stated by Viz’s own Charlene Ingram on ANNCast on July 17). Fortunately, rumors of a new HBO series helmed by Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro (comic book fans may know him as the director for Blade II and the Hellboy franchise) have kickstarted the Continue reading Urasawa’s classic “Monster” to return to print

“Happy Ending” fun but often forgettable

By Kory Cerjak

startwithahappyendingTitle: Start With A Happy Ending
Author: Risa Motoyama
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing

Start With A Happy Ending is a bit of a strange book. It’s put out by Digital Manga Publishing, which obviously publishes almost exclusively digital comics. But I’m pretty glad they put out a physical copy of this book. The comic is written by Risa Motoyama, but I’m unable to find much of any information on her. The website is in Japanese (which I don’t know) and the Google Translate version is, of course, hilarious and not very helpful. From what I can garner, she’s simply a cartoonist and, according to Anime News Network, she’s done no other manga aside from Start With A Happy Ending.

Originally published in Monthly Manga Time Jumbo by Houbunsha, the comic is a series of one-off stories about people who are reincarnated as cats, but only for one week. You Continue reading “Happy Ending” fun but often forgettable

“MPD Psycho” Shocking yet Cerebral

By Kory Cerjak

MPD PsychoTitle: MPD Psycho (Multiple Personality Detective Psycho)
Author: Eiji Otsuka, Illustrator: Shou Tajima
Publisher: Dark Horse

Deconstructing Comics’ own Kumar Sivasubramanian translated Dark Horse’s weird and usually cerebral manga MPD Psycho into English. And it’s a good thing he did (rather, that Dark Horse licensed it in the first place) because it is the detective/crime thriller that I always look for.

MPD Psycho is about a detective named Yosuke Kobayashi who, after having his girlfriend literally mailed to him in a freezer, goes crazy and hunts down the man who did it. As a result of these events, he develops multiple personalities. The bulk of this information is given intermittently throughout volume one, which is an interesting storytelling tactic. It allows the reader to weave through the mystery him/herself while simultaneously setting up for the rest of the series with scenes like Kobayashi and future employer Machi Isono. In fact, his “transformation” to cold-blooded killer Shinji Nishizono is only revealed to us through Isono seeing a video made by a reporter.

This is why I call the manga “cerebral”. Much of what’s going on is presented to us in the first person, but it feels very much like a third person point of view. But it gets confusing because we’re looking through the eyes of Kazuhiko Amamiya (the now-dominant personality) as well as Nishizono and later Kiyoshi Murata. We’re most definitely inside of Kobayashi’s head, but we’re never immediately sure of whether it’s Kobayashi-Amamiya, Kobayashi-Nishizono, or Kobayashi-Murata. Thankfully, Otsuka clears that up quickly.

The plot itself centers around a serial killer who Isono and Amamiya’s agency is trying to track down, dubbed the “Lucy Seven” case according to Wikipedia. Those individual cases aren’t made evident to be more than just a murder. Once they solve it, it’s revealed to be part of the Lucy Seven. Lucy Seven itself is very complex, because we not only have to weave through the individual cases, but also how it ties in to the larger whole.

Despite the fact that we’re inside one of Amamiya’s many personalities at any given time, we’re still left piecing together the mystery. Amamiya isn’t aware of what Nishizono is thinking, and neither is aware of what Murata is thinking. So we, the reader, are left with bits and pieces of information that only make up a fraction of the whole.

It’s hard to write detective fiction this compelling and this interesting, and it’s a testament to Otsuka that he did it this well. It relies heavily on shocking imagery (like Kobayashi’s girlfriend being mailed to him and other dismembered bodies) early on, but it lightens up on that and becomes more than just a shock story. It’s good that it does, because Otsuka is certainly good at writing this kind of detective fiction. He can string you along and make you believe you have all the pieces of the puzzle, because Amamiya thinks he has all the pieces to the puzzle. In reality, Nishizono has a few of the missing pieces and Murata might have a few more missing pieces. We’re able to piece it all together, but it’s so interesting to watch the character work his way through it.

I don’t mean to knock on the translation of a fellow Deconstructing Comics-er, but I question one thing, and one thing only: the original Murata Kiyoshi’s speech patterns. It seems like it’d be a lot like Kugeyama from Genshiken, in that he’d have a stutter, but instead it’s just drawn out and slow. Since I don’t know what the original was, I can’t comment on whether that’s accurate, but it seems off and slows me down reading the broken up sentences. But what do I know, I don’t even speak Japanese. Also that could be an editorial decision, not of the translator.

The artwork in MPD Psycho is absolutely spectacular in places and mediocre in others. The faces of Amamiya (and I do mean faces) are spectacular. The differences in expression and hair make it easy to tell which personality is in control. However, the faces of background characters seem to be the same old face with new hair. Most of the other main characters are great, but not to the level of Amamiya. The background art is fine. It adds to the ambiance as backgrounds, but it’s never great like it could be in Kare Kano. Overall, the art does what it needs to do in a story like this, and that’s support but not lead.

I love things like Dexter, Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, and Blade Runner, so it’s only natural that I’d like MPD Psycho as well. It has the interesting maybe-right-but-probably-wrong serial killer, the sort of noir or neo-noir detective feel, and a mystery that isn’t told to you outright nor is it held in front of you like a carrot (I’m looking at you, J.J. Abrams).

Best of all, in volume four, MPD Psycho basically predicted the Rebuild of Evangelion.

MPD Psycho is in print by Dark Horse and easily findable at Amazon, Right Stuf, and probably your local bookstore—though it’ll most likely be shrink-wrapped. It’s also available on Dark Horse’s digital store, which is where I’ve been reading it.

“Kare Kano” hilarious, touching

by Kory Cerjak

Title: His and Her Circumstances (Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou)
Author: Masami Tsuda
Publisher: Tokyopop (former)

CC1EFDB3DKare Kano, after Fruits Basket, has to be the best-selling shojo manga of all time for Tokyopop. Kare Kano also holds the distinction of being one of the first manga Tokyopop ever released “unflopped.” This was a big decision for Tokyopop, since it meant they could save about $10 per page in producing the manga for a North American market. But enough about history, let’s get to the story. What makes Kare Kano’s story so endearing is how Miyazawa and Arima grow throughout the series. And with 21 volumes, there’s a lot of material to watch them in.

The story is simple, a love story of two high schoolers trying to grow up and grow closer together. Your usual complications come up throughout the story (I’ve read the entire series, but I’ll only be reviewing the first three volumes here), like the “new kids in town” Hideaki Asaba and Maho Izawa and typical Continue reading “Kare Kano” hilarious, touching

“Lone Wolf and Cub” formulaic but gripping

by Kory Cerjak

Title: Lone Wolf and Cub omnibus 1
Author: Kazuo Koike, Illustrator: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse

If you’re a manga fan and you haven’t at least heard the name Lone Wolf and Cub, then you’ve got some research to do. Written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub follows the story of Ogami Itto and his son, Daigoro (the Lone Wolf and the Cub, respectively), on their path for revenge.

Each story through the manga is rather simplistic and formulaic. I don’t know how it worked in 1970 when the manga was originally released (I suspect it was chapter by chapter as it is now), but the formulaic first few stories grow tiring after a while. It’d be Continue reading “Lone Wolf and Cub” formulaic but gripping

“Bunny Drop” Bypassess Josei Manga Tropes

by Kory Cerjak

Life as a salaryman in Japan is already difficult enough. 30-year-old Daikichi works well past 7 p.m. each night and has way too much expected of him by higher-ups. Add in that he has to raise a child, who happens to be his grandfather’s love child, 6-year-old Rin. Such is Yumi Unita’s first (and so far only) manga, Bunny Drop (Yen Press).

What makes Bunny Drop so endearing is how Unita slowly, almost methodically, characterizes both Daikichi and Rin. There are little moments woven throughout each chapter that give us more and more insight into Daikichi and Rin. Arguably the biggest moment comes near the end of chapter one. Daikichi is Continue reading “Bunny Drop” Bypassess Josei Manga Tropes