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Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics

Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics

by Paul Gravett

ISBN: 1-8566-9391-0
176 pp

Japanese comics have their roots in the early 19th century and the sketches that the artist Hokusai drew, though some argue that the origins are even older, dating back to the start of the 18th century. Whatever the origins, one man's name stands head and shoulders above all others in the genre, that of Takarazuka native Tezuka Osamu. Tezuka was single-handedly responsible for revolutionising the comic art-form in the years immediately following World War II and has an entire chapter dedicated to him in this sumptuous new book. Ostensibly a large-format art book, Manga is packed full of both black-and-white and colour illustrations and full-page excerpts from the world of Japanese comics. Commendably, the quality of Gravett's accompanying text is high, and there is more to read here than at first meets the eye, which is inevitably drawn towards the book's attractive design and excellent graphics. Gravett recounts the post-World War II rise of manga, and aside from Tezuka, devotes chapters to traditional boys' and girls' comics. He is not averse to delving into the underground either and even-handedly explores some of the more extreme subject matters that, just as in literature, can be found in the genre. Far more than merely "tits and tentacles," as many ignorant Westerners still complain, there is little doubt now that manga is an accepted art form at home and increasingly overseas. In 1990, it was not seen as a suitable cultural export by conservative Japanese taste-makers; barely a decade later, in 2002, and the BBC was enhancing their coverage of that year's football World Cup (co-hosted by Japan and Korea) with deliberate manga-style graphics. This is an enjoyable and appealing book, with enough information for an overview of modern manga. Readers interested in a more in-depth, though less aesthetically pleasing, study are advised to pick up a copy of Frederik L. Schodt's Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga.

Dominic al-Badri

This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out magazine

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation

Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation

by Yoshiyuki Tomino

translated by Frederik L. Schodt

Stone Bridge Press

ISBN: 1880656868
480 pages with 24 pages of b/w illustrations

Currently popular on the Cartoon Network, video games, and toys, Gundam has attained iconic status both within and beyond the world of manga. It was only a matter of time before a novelized version of the original story by Tomino-sensei appeared. Stone Bridge has once again proved why it is one of the more interesting publishing houses in the US.

The Gundam franchise began in 1979 and now has a worldwide following. In the Gundam universe the Earth Federation battles troublesome off-world colonies and "Newtype" warriors that feature suits of high-tech armor. This book presents Tomino's vision as outlined in the original Japanese series, but with perhaps even more vivid characterization and a shocking ending.

Translator Fred Schodt, the dean of American mangaphiles, has done a wonderful job of staying faithful to the original Japanese - and conveying meaning and nuance in hip mangaese. There is also an enlightening introduction by Gundam expert Mark Simmons.

For Gundam fans, Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation is as close to the Holy Grail as you are going to get. A stunning retelling of a classic story.

Buy the latest Gundam models and kits direct from Japan

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Ronin

Ronin

by Frank Miller

published by DC Comics

ISBN: 0930289218
302 pp

"It is a dark time, a dark age. Hope is a phantom dream, a fragrant memory. Of joy, there is no remembrance. The people have never known it." From the diary of Casey McKenna, date unknown.
In 1983 came this graphic novel (or trade comic book) that is set in the past and the future. It came from one of the most talented minds in the modern comic book world, Frank Miller; up there with Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Marvel 1602).

Frank Miller is responsible for graphic novels that are imaginative as well as cinematic: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (which arguably influenced Tim Burton's Batman movie), Batman: Year One (which arguably influenced Batman Begins), Sin City and 300.
This is an unusual samurai tale, set in 13th century Japan and a futuristic 21st century New York. It is both period and sci-fi. It contains gifted swordsman, demons, magic, cybernetics, robots, artificial intelligence, violence, explosions, action, dreams, duty and mayhem. Ronin is a heady mix.
Like many Western samurai tales (Kill Bill, Afro Samurai) revenge is the driving force of the plot. A trainee samurai to Lord Ozaki is unable to protect him from being killed by demon Agat. The samurai is disgraced and is now a ronin (a masterless samurai). He swears to avenge Ozaki. The only way to kill the demon is with a special sword, now in the possession of the ronin, and with the blood of an innocent on the blade. The ronin uses his own blood but before Agat dies he traps them both using magic in the sword. From feudal Japan to 800 years later they are both freed in America by a scientist and the battle commences again.
The graphic novel shares many traits with Japanese anime (such as Ninja Scroll and Princess Mononoke) a period sensibility wrapped up in the fantastical and surreal. The book shares some of the violence and sex with the former, though toned down.
The demon can control flesh and takes hold of those useful (perhaps a corruption of the sensual like the Kabuki theatre?), while the ronin shares the body of a disabled person and using the latest technology is granted new bio-mechanical limbs (prescient to nano technology). The battle in Manhattan is an interesting canvass. The world is in a depression, the last since the 1930s, and is a violent, lawless, hopeless place. There is starvation and cruelty. A "crash" occurred but that is the only hint as to the causes.
This future society is an interesting commentary on Japan in specificity and the world as a whole. The environment is devastated. There has not been any snow in Manhattan for five years. The voices on this subject are growing on a significant scale. There too has been much criticism of Japan's relationship with nature destruction of the environment in exchange for technological advancement (the plethora of electricity pylons, levelling of mountains, concrete everywhere, etc.).
New York is also a hotbed of racial tension. Added to that, the world is on the verge of a final war, with nations, companies and individuals fighting for scraps. Arms manufacturers are greedily looking for the latest weapons to give them the edge. There is a feeling of post apocalyptic malaise like much of the manga and anime from Japan over the decades, with a similar cataclysmic and enigmatic ending that frustrates.
Ronin is an imaginative, brooding dystopia but not completely satisfying due to the ending. Miller has said that from now on only he will adapt his work for the big screen. I cannot wait! Ronin is on that list.

Hemanth Kissoon

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Draw Your Own Manga: Beyond the Basics

Draw Your Own Manga: Beyond the Basics

by Haruno Nagatomo

translated by Francoise White

Kodansha International

ISBN: 4-7700-2304-9
112 pages (16 color pages)

Following up on the wildly successful Draw Your Own Manga: The Basics, Haruno Nagatomo's newest work for aspiring manga artists helps you to refine and improve on the techniques acquired in the first book. Recommended by the Tokyo Animation College, Draw Your Own Manga: Beyond the Basics features the same cute heroine and her stuffed toy squirrel. They provide the tips for drawing people of all ages and body types, how to lay out frames on a page, where to put speech balloons, background words, and more. Later, they go into the use of color and what materials to use. Also, baseball manga artist Shinji Mizushima offers practical tips.

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CASE CLOSED: DETECTIVE CONAN, Vol. 1

CASE CLOSED: DETECTIVE CONAN, Vol. 1

by Gosho Aoyama

Viz Publishers

ISBN: 1591163277
181 pp

Shin'ichi ("Jimmy") Kudo is one of the smartest kids in his high school - and on top of that is also a hopeless mystery fanatic. Fortunately for him and us, Ran Mori (aka, "Rachel Moore"), his pal/girlfriend - this is never clear - has both of her feet on the ground and keeps Jimmy semi-in touch with reality.

Our story begins as he follows a suspicious man into a park, is attacked from behind, and then force-fed a strange chemical substance that knocks him out. He wakes to discover that he has become a wimpy little elementary school kid. Alas! Our pitiful hero then takes refuge with an oddball inventor. The inventor-sensei takes on the challenge of finding a cure for poor little Jimmy. While waiting to be returned to his full height and his teens, Jimmy becomes Conan Edogawa (i.e., Sir Arthur Conan Doyle + the last name of the famous Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Ranpo, who in turn borrowed his name from the great mystery novelist Edgar Allan Poe). As Conan, Jimmy becomes the little brother that Rachel never had, and helps her hapless private-detective father solve any and all of the horrific murder mysteries that her father needs help solving.

The first story is about a horrible murder in an art museum. The second story has Conan having to race against time to find a bomb on a train. The third story has Conan team up with his classmates to solve the riddle of a coded treasure map. Will he and Rachel get together? Will he solve all the mysteries? And, perhaps most vital of all, will he be restored to his full and former size? Read on.

Conan is a legendary series in Japan. In Case Closed: Detective Conan, Volume 1, Viz has done a good job of staying true to the original, while presenting an attractive manga for English-language fans. Will Jimmy be returned to his full size?

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Pictures and Words: New Comic Art and Narrative Illustration

Pictures and Words: New Comic Art and Narrative Illustration

by Roanne Bell & Mark Sinclair

Laurence King

ISBN: 1-85699-414-3
144 pages

In spite of the growing popularity and acceptance of manga as a legitimate form of art, comics, graphic novels, and cartoons have long been relegated to a lesser stratosphere in the hierarchy or graphic arts. In recent years, though, cracks have begun to form in the walls of the academy. Driven in part by Japan-based artists and artisans, comic art has become a universal phenomenon and language. In the past, because of its lower class status, comic art was perceived to be an "alternative medium." Mainstream animated films, howwever, such as "Spirited Away," and the influence they have had on directors such as Quentin Tarantino, have brought the art form into suburban cineplexes worldwide. Graphic novels now garner awards, and the work of well-known artists hangs in galleries.

"Pictures and Words: New Comic Art" gathers in the works of a diverse group of artists from around the world. The text is divided into three sections: Silent, Single Panel, and Text & Image.

The featured works range from pensive to overtly political, works that appear in the New Yorker to those that cannot be printed in a family newspaper. Artists include Barry Blitt, Jordan Crane, Tom Dieck, Igort, David Rees, Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi.

Ironically, or perhaps not, not a single Japanese artist is featured. Lacking the edge of most of the work herein, most Japanese artists, though technically excellent, do not "say" as much in their work, the brilliant example of Hayao Mizyazaki notwithstanding.

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Sass Girls

Sass Girls X

by Imari Imarea

Veon

ISBN: 0976874601
172 pages

Imari Imarea has obviously read a lot of Japanese manga. And watched a lot of Japanese anime.

Heavily influenced by both, the author of Sass Girls X has produced a decent first work of sci-fi. The basic story revolves around Steve Bogard and Sho Yohance. They both work as cops in LA, and have serious women and family issues.

Finally, a bit predictably, they meet women. The women are "bodacious babes with knockers that defy gravity." The problem - aside from the pat description of the women - is that they are actually aliens. And, when aroused or angry, go berserk. (That just got the book banned from about 90% of university reading lists.)

Moreover, the father of these two outer space hotties is planning on taking over the world. That's where Steve and Sho come in. can they save the world, the chicks, their jobs, their relationships?

The work needs a some editing, especially in the dialog, but if you like sci-fi, buy the book and read on.

The book comes with a CD, which is perhaps hoping to become a soundtrack some day.

C. Ogawa

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Cosplay: Catgirls and Other Critters

Cosplay: Catgirls and Other Critters

by Gerry Poulos

Stone Bridge Press

ISBN: 1933330023
80 pages, 75 color photographs

"Cosplay," or costume play, is big in the anime con scene in Japan and the US. What this book does is teach you not just how to draw an anime character - but how to become an anime character.

The text is a primer on the basics of sewing and costuming for all levels of Cosplay. It features techniques that help you:

--transform simple fabric into amazing set pieces

--"cosplaying both for competition and just for fun"

--find difficult to get and imported items

--save money

--and includes a great resource list of web sites

--plus drawings and plans and pictures

A perfect present.

C. Ogawa

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The Beautiful World 1: Kino no Tabi

The Beautiful World 1: Kino no Tabi

by Keiichi Sigsawa

Illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi

Tokyo Pop

ISBN: 1598164554
205 pages

As in some of the best Japanese manga and anime, KINO NO TABI, book one of the eight-volume series The Beautiful World, features a strong and fearless young woman living in some sort of alternate universe. She travels from country to country on her long-suffering sidekick, an anthropomorphic motorcycle named Hermes.

When we first meet Kino, she has another name -- that of a flower -- and she is about to undergo an operation on her brain that will turn her into an adult. A stranger appears and informs her that there are other ways of living. Kino decides that she doesn't want to have the operation after all, but when she tells her parents this, they try to kill her. The stranger is killed trying to save her. She takes off on the motorcycle, and her exile from Grownup Country begins.

Every country, she finds, has its own problems. Many Japanese people believe that they can communicate their thoughts without words, but in visiting The Land of Shared Pain, Kino discovers how awful it would be if that were really true. Even The Land of Peace isn't quite so wonderful as it sounds. Violence is everywhere, but Kino, who practices with her weapons every morning and knows how to use them, continues to love peace.

Toward the end, Kino seems to find a friend, but they go their separate ways. Maybe they'll meet up again in later volumes?

This graceful translation part allegory, part sci-fi/fantasy. Although there is some blood and gore, there is also humor and beauty.

Suzanne Kamata

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Border Town

Border Town

by Hillel Wright

Printed Matter Press

ISBN: 1-933606-08-8
170 pp

Hillel Wright's highly entertaining novel details the life and loves of Fumie Akahoshi, a masseuse turned superstar manga artist. Akahoshi, who starts out married to a much older Western writer, known only as the Old Man, achieves fame as the creator of Chibi Hanako, a character with "the curious blending of an innocent elementary school girl perhaps nine years old with the grace and power of a ninja crossed with an Amazon."

Akahoshi's stories become increasingly political, thereby incurring the wrath of Japanese right-wingers. She ultimately becomes the target of a hit man after criticizing the Emperor in her manga.

Although it is a bit difficult to imagine a manga artist stirring up political sentiments in modern Japan, realism is not the point here.

Readers willing to suspend disbelief are in for a rollicking ride. Fans of Wright's previously published fiction will recognize some familiar motifs, such as fishing and Jorge Luis Borges. Also, Wiley Moon, Wright's alter ego and the protagonist of his novel All Worldly Pursuits, makes a cameo as a literary agent.

The book includes illustrations by Taeko Onitsuka which do not exactly illustrate the story, but serve to complement its themes. Pay attention, and you'll get a crash course in underground comics.

Suzanne Kamata

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Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel Alita Volume 1

by Yukito Kishiro

VIZ Media LLC

ISBN: 1-5693-1824-7
248 pp

Manga are far more respected in Japan than our comic book equivalents. They are read by all demographics and are viewed as an art-form like any other. It is visual storytelling, using panels of pictures with speech and sound effects.

Battle Angel Alita, volume 1, was published back in 1991. After writer-director James Cameron finishes his magnum opus, Avatar, he will turn his attention to adapting to the silver screen this wonderful sci-fi action-adventure.

When reading this manga note that, although translated into English, the book is "printed in the original Japanese format in order to preserve the orientation of the original artwork". So you read right to left, back to front.

Right from the awesome image of a robotic woman with angel wings on pages two and three, we are thrust into the world far, far into the future. This is a Japan where cities float in the sky, and shift in their moorings to the ground according to the moon. Like much manga and anime, technology has advanced exponentially to almost unrecognisability, and there is an exploration of the nature of humanity. Here the relationship between human and machinery has blurred. Artificial intelligence exists, where robots are just as sophisticated as nature. Humans are revived and augmented and are now cyborgs happily living (though the health-care system is only for the wealthy). The influence of writers Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? aka Blade Runner) and Isaac Asimov (I, Robot) are felt.

Volume 1 focuses on the scrapyard city below the floating utopia of Tiphares. Those that have not, it seems, live below Tiphares. Environmental damage that has been on the forefront of many minds in Japan currently has taken root, and this scrapyard city is a sea of neon and metal, with no signs of vegetation or birds or animals (except dogs). I wonder if that is the reason why this manga is drawn in shades of black and white, without any colours which potentially represent nature, as well as hope?

While the environment has apparently suffered, on the other hand scientific knowledge has grown. There is a mechanics genius whose shop sign reads: "Daisuke Ido, Mechanic Cyborgs Androids Robots Repairs of all kinds, Tuning & Maintenance Cybernetic Repair Workstation"

Mad-haired Daisuke often wanders into the mountain of scrap looking for robotic elements to build from. He comes across the head of a robotic girl, with a neck and part of her torso still attached. She is 200 or 300 years old but her brain is intact and he manages to revive her, and then constructs a body for her. She is without memory and so Daisuke names her after his dead male cat, Alita, until she remembers her given name.

The police no longer exist. Instead 'Factories', administrative centres, register bounty hunters who catch criminals for a fee. Like much Japanese originated sci-fi, there has been a societal breakdown. Fearsome criminals now roam the streets. Daisuke, is not only a scientist, but one of these vigilantes, who captures criminals "for the rush" - showing that not all computer whizzes are nerds.

Alita follows him one night and is forced to help him. In protecting him she unleashes and unknowingly unveils her gifts as a fighter and decides to become a bounty hunter herself while she learns who she really is. This theme can be seen also in James Cameron's post-apocalyptic television show, Dark Angel, where a genetically modified woman (Jessica Alba) fights for good while on her own journey of self-discovery.

This society is not in good shape, what with vampire serial killers, and drug-addicted cyborg murderers. This latter killer is in fact a nutty Nietzsche-spouting snake-borg, Makaku, who eats the brains of humans and dogs to get their natural endorphin chemicals. Daisuke is right, when he says, "Damn, he's scary!" So bounty hunters Alita and Daisuke lock horns with Makaku in a grand, brutal struggle.

There is plenty of action, though it unfortunately can be a bit confusingly portrayed at times; while the violence is tempered by the imagination on display and the lack of colour.
Battle Angel Alita is a stunningly drawn comic book with a heart, and a gripping mystery story at its core.

"There's nothing in this world of value...nothing worth risking our lives for...except, perhaps...what little we can create ourselves. Without you Alita my life has no value," says Daisuke. A reference perhaps, to not only children, but to also art, and job satisfaction?

Hemanth Kissoon

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Princess Knight: Order this book from Amazon

Princess Knight

by Osamu Tezuka

Kodansha International

ISBN: 4-7700-2815-6
115 pp

This is another in Kodansha's Bilingual Comics series. This work is from the King of Manga - aka, Osamu Tezuka. Princess Knight is a work strongly influenced by the author's hometown. Raised in Takarazuka, a suburban city north of Kobe, Tezuka was steeped in the lore of city's famous all-female dance troupe. (The group is still alive and well and tours regularly within Japan, and has made tours of Broadway and London.) Beloved in Japan, the troupe is very campy to Western eyes. The women seem to all have been hatched from the same DNA pool, and their costumes and acting and singing are over the top. With no trace of irony, Tezuka picks up these themes in Princess Knight. The series debuted in 1953 in the teen magazine Shojo, where it ran for 14 years. This book features, among others, Madame Hell and Captain Blood. Chapter Three ("The Carnival") is an adaptation of Cinderella. The story is a tale of love and deceit, good and evil. The action is fast and furious, the illustrations lovingly rendered. For Tezuka fans and Japanese-language learners, it is a wonderful little book.

Note: this text is not currently available from Amazon USA.

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The Akiba: A Manga Guide to Akihabara

Original story and illustrations by Makoto Nakajima

The Akiba

Japan Publications Trading Co.

ISBN: 4889962492
96 pp

Akiba is an English version of a Japanese manga guide to Tokyo's Akihabara. Akihabara, or just "Akiba" as young people shorten it, is the area in downtown Tokyo famed for its many electronics emporiums, maid cafes, and all things appealing to geeks and otaku.

The area of Akihabara is relatively small, but a bit overwhelming, espically if you do not read or speak Japanese.

The Akiba hopes to fill that void.

According to its press release, "Now, however, this clever new guidebook presents the wonderfully eccentric appeal of the district in an easy-to-understand and entertaining format--a fusion of manga and practical travel information that will prove invaluable to the foreign visitor."

The text is written and drawn as manga, and the majority of it is a story of a young woman, Yoko, who is searching for her boyfriend, Hiroshi, who has gone missing in Akihabara. She enlists the help of a friend of Hiroshi's, Okada, whom she meets in Akiba.

The two of them then roam Akiba in search of Hiroshi - and along the way give the reader an entertaining social, cultural, and actual tour of the area.

We learn about the development of the area following World War II, and continue on to its rise to becoming the mecca of world geekdom.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the Shop & Restaurant Guide to Akiba at the end. This is the section of the book not drawn as manga, and it features 20 pages of stores, cafes, restaurants, arcades, and maps.

This is a useful and entertaining guide.

C. Ogawa

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Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City's Most Colorful Neighborhoods

Original story and illustrations by Florent Chavouet

Tokyo on Foot

Tuttle

ISBN: 4805311371
208 pp

Tokyo on Foot is a witty, wonderful outsider's sketch book take on the sprawling Japanese capital.

Florent Chavouet spent six months in Tokyo with his girlfriend. She had a job, he had a sketch book.

With limited Japanese skills but prodigious drawing ability, Monsieur Chavouet wandered the streets of Tokyo, drawing and interacting with people.

The result is a quirky, original take on several areas of Tokyo.

The book is a graphic memoir with clever notations that document the six months Chavouet spent in Tokyo.

The work is broken into about 20 areas of the city.

Ikebukuro, Takadanobaba, Roppongi, Daikanyama, and more come under the satirical scrutiny of Chavouet's pen.

The drawings are wonderful, the commentary witty.

C. Ogawa

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