Books on Japan: Japanese Manga
Japanese Manga 2
translated by Frederik L. Schodt
Shirow's legendary manga went on to become a legendary film that
took the anime world by storm in 1995. Originally published in Japanese
in 1991, Shirow's masterpiece was released in English and Japanese
in 2002. It is as close to "cinema" as it is possible to get
on paper. The color illustrations are stunning. The text, translated by
Frederik L. Schodt, crackles off the page. The story begins in 2029 in
New Port City; the setting is (an idealized version of) Kyoto meets Shinjuku
meets futuristic Tokyo. The plotline is a thinly veiled attack on the
Japanese government. (Shirow would disagree: "In The Ghost in
the Shell politics aren't the main theme" However,
the text would seem to suggest otherwise.)
The "shell" refers to bodies that are both artificial and organic, and the "ghost" refers to individual identity. The story revolves around a very advanced computer program, which attains self-consciousness and independence. It moves freely through the Internet, becoming known as the Puppet Master, "the greatest hacker of all time."
Humans coexist with cyborgs, who are part human, part machine, and part computer. The Puppet Master describes itself as "a living, thinking entity who was created in the sea of information.'' It was once a real person but was fooled into entering a cyborg - and at that point was murdered. Now it exists solely in cyberspace and is in search of another real body.
The Puppet Master is an agent created by a government branch. It is to be in charge of international espionage. However, the above - its discovery that it is human - wreaks havoc on the government's plans.
Now the government must capture the Puppet Master. There is interagency rivalry and political infighting. The main agent in charge of his capture is Major Motoko Kusanagi. She and the Puppet Master may cut a deal. Who will succed? An amazing tale.
Note: this text is available only on Amazon Japan.
by Hideshi Hino
Beware the red snake! Told from the perspective of a young boy, The
Red Snake (Hino Horror 1) is a story of the above boy, the house he
inhabits, and the forest around his house that stretches on and on. The
characters in the story are all mad: his grandfather, who sports a massive
growth on his jaw; his grandmother, who believes she is a chicken; his
father, who is vicious to the chickens he raises (except for his mother,
to whom he provides eggs that so that she can claim she laid them herself);
and his sister, whose affection for insects borders on the erotic. The
story evolves into a classic nightmare.
Paul Gravett, author of Manga, Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, writes: "Hideshi Hino is a visionary of relentless, escalating darkness."
by Osamu Tezuka
Black Jack: Two Fisted Surgeon is the tale of the world's
greatest surgeon. The great Tezuka - himself a medical doctor prior
to abandoning the scalpel for the pen - carves this premise into a
thriller. Black Jack is thrown into all sorts of situations and zany plot
twists that will keep you reading.
There are 9 short stories in this book. Terrorists take over a hospital, an epidemic is carried by dingoes in Australia, and Black Jack himself is operated on by a doctor who is profoundly jealous of his patient's superior skills. For those who grew up loving Kimba and the many well-known works by Tezuka, this will be a treat and a discovery.
by Masashi Ueda
Kobo-chan began its run in the Yomiuri newspaper in 1982. Because of immense popularity, it was made into an anime that aired for two years. Kobo the Li'l Rascal documents the life of a five-year-old boy, Kobo. He lives in a three-generation household, and the stories revolve around his life: his idealized family, his kindergarten, the seasonal changes, his friends.
For those with children, this is an insightful look
at Japanese life - however idealized it may be - and a warm and
funny take on a young boy and his adventures.
by Yozaburo Kanari & Fumiya Sato
This is a wonderful bilingual detective manga from Kodansha. In The
New Kindaichi Files: 1 (Murder at Hotel Opera) Kindaichi joins his
childhood friend Nanase Miyuki and police detective Kenmochi Yasuo on
a excursion to Utajima, a secluded island with a hotel named "Opera
House." There, an acting troupe is trying to rehearse the Phantom
of the Opera as a bitter rivalry among prima donna stars plays out.
Soon enough, the serial killings begin and accusations fly.
All the ingredients are there: an isolated locale, a cast in which everyone has a motive to kill, the killings, the investigation, the red herrings, and the final face-off with the killer. What is different and thrilling is a drawn-out denouement. This is a wonderful whodunit. Good luck guessing who the killer is.
Note: The bilingual version of the text is not available on Amazon USA.
by Hajime Yadate, Yutaka Nanten & Cain Yuga
Cowboy Bebop Volumes 1-3 and Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Star Volumes 1-2 - all in one boxed set.
The coolest bounty hunters in the galaxy are back! Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine are on the hunt for new enemies. Inspired by the hit anime series, Cowboy Bebop is a fusion of science fiction, film noir, and jazz that creates a genre all its own. Each volume features four adventures.
At the end of the 21st century, with the earth in ruins, humans leave to find opportunity deep in the galaxy. This is followed by a good old-fashioned crime wave, which the local cops can't handle. Hence our heroes the Cowboys ride in to save the day. The perfect action-packed gift for hardcore fans.
by Risu Akizuki
Published at the height of the Japanese economic boom, in 1989, as "OL Shinkaron" in Japan, this series has enjoyed massive popularity. Now in a bilingual version, you can see what all the excitement was about. The OL - office lady - is often considered the "flower" to freshen up and make an otherwise male preserve more attractive. The passive and attractive females make copies and pour tea - or so it is thought. In reality, these women have tremendous control over their "superiors." And, in contrast to their wage slave male counterparts, the women actually seem to enjoy life. A funny and refreshing look at a side of Japan rarely seen.
This book is based on the twenty-sixth TV episode of the same series. It was a massive hit in both Japan and the US.
This is a fun and light work that many children will enjoy.
A wicked wizard Ham turns the sky black and dries up all of the sunflowers.
Hamtaro must save the kingdom. How will he do it? Can he do it? Should he do it?
There's a small person in your life who needs this book. The perfect gift for a birthday or Christmas.
by Waki Yamato
Based on Lady Shikibu's work of the same title, this is the first
bilingual manga version of the world's first novel. It centers on
court life in ancient Kyoto. The original Japanese manga, by Waki Yamato,
was drawn to make the novel more accessible to modern Japanese. Kodansha
has taken that a step further by translating this work into English. The
story centers on the following characters: Emperor Kiritsubo, Genji's
father; Genji (the shining one), the son of Lady Kiritsubo; Lady Aoi,
Genji's first wife; Lady Kiritsubo, Genji's mother; Lady Rokujo,
the widow of the Crown Prince; Princess Fujitsubo, the the fourth daughter
of the former Emperor; To-no-chujo, Lady Aoi's older brother; and
Yugao, the frail former lover of To-no-Chujo. Full of plot twists and
palace intrigue. A peek into an ancient world.
by Ai Yazawa
Manga artiste Ai Yazawa is very well known in Japan; abroad she merits
the moniker up-and-coming. She is best known for her bold design and expressive
facial characterization. She has had a following since her debut work, Gokinjo Monogatari (A Neighborhood Tale). Some of the same characters appear in Paradise Kiss, a modern "shojo" (young women) manga.
The main character Yukari is a typical Japanese girl: she wants to get into a good college in order to please her parents. However, the best laid plans of mice and menOne day she is kidnapped by a group of "fashionistas" who call themselves "Paradise Kiss." Yukari is thrown headfirst into the mad, mad world of fashion. Under the tutelage of George, "art-snob extraordinaire," she is transformed into a supermodel. Great illustrations and a compelling storyline.
In the first volume, Serena's best friend is kidnapped just as the baddies unleash an evil plan to render human beings their servants.
When Serena's friends start acting oddly - and then disappear - she realizes that she must transform into our hero Sailor Moon to save the universe.
For Sailor Moon fans, this is a must have.
Better than the anime version.
A classic and great read.
This is a good example of "salaryman" manga. It features
the bucho - division chief - of a massive conglomerate, Hatsushiba
Electric. Kosaku Shima is a decent man who is trying to maintain his identity
in the face of the onslaught of work or the inevitable co-opting that
comes with working in a large Japanese organization. Division Chief
Kosaku Shima is about Shima's attempt to improve the image of
the conglomerate. On a more personal level, it includes his relationship
with his lover, Kumiko Omachi, who is the company's Los Angeles
representative - and the daughter of the founder of the company. She
is a passionate woman and the book has the occasional adult situation.
The story mainly revolves though around the fortunes and internecine struggles at the parent company.
This is a type of manga extremely popular in Japan but rarely seen outside of its shores. It gives a human face to those who work at the Matsushitas, Sonys, and Toyotas of the world.
Note: this text is available on Amazon UK & Amazon Japan
Recently featured in the NY Times, this is chick-lit-manga mainly for younger women. (Wallflower is also immensely popular among "older" readers and men as well.) Noted as being part of a boom in manga by and for young women, Wallflower is the story of Sunako, an awkward teenager girl dealing with issues that awkward teenagers deal with. The hook in this story is that - for reasons you will have to discover on your own - four young men will get three years of free rent at her aunt's boarding house if they can turn frumpy insecure Sunako into Sunako the Hottie. In terms of her wardrobe, Sunako is Seattle circa 1985: grunge city. On top of this, she'd rather hide out in her room watching horror flicks than cooperate with her knights in waiting. When she does have to interact with the boys - she cooks and lives in the same boarding house - she's nearly blinded by them. Or, stranger yet, she gets nosebleeds whenever one of them says something nice about or to her. The guys have a major project on their hands. However, the boys find their opening after one of them bails Sunako out of an awful, cloyingly realistic teenage situation in which Sunako is being tormented. She repays him by rescuing him from being kidnapped by scary club owners - and thus is Sunako on her way to being transformed. The story and ending are unusual, and should appeal to many types of readers.
Masatsugu Iwase-sensei is back! And none too soon. The Archangel, a state-of-the-art battle carrier, has managed to wend its way through perilous war zones thanks to young stud pilot Kira Yamato and his sidekick robot, the Strike Gundam. However, the never-ending battles take their toll on the young pilot Kirawho also suffers from horrific nightmares. While scavenging for desperately needed supplies deep in a graveyard of space colonies, the crew stumbles upon Lacus Clyne, the knock-out daughter of a high official of the Zaft Empire. Is this a good omen? Or not? When a return trip to the Earth-controlled district of Alaska goes terribly wrong, the Archangel winds up in an African desert attacked by new Zaft craft, one of which is piloted by Kira's best friend and most dangerous enemy, Athrun! Fasten your seat belts; you are in for a ride.
by Ken Akamatsu
Author of Love Hina, Ken Akamatsu has a new book out that is a bit naughty but quite fun. It is about 10-year-old Negi Springfield, a young magician who has started work at a new school. He is about to learn a lot more than his ABCs; rather, Negi is about to set off on an adventure in which he will discover love and just how powerful he really is. Negi has just graduated from magic school and is sent to Japan to teach English to a group of junior high school students. One of his odder powers is the ability to remove girls' clothing by sneezing, which is very convenient since the school he has been shipped out to is an all-girls school. (Akamatsu-sensei revels in sexual innuendo, so if puerile humor is not to your taste, skip down to another book review.) Negi of course becomes an incredibly popular teacher at the school. However, Asuna, a hot-tempered young student who is in love with 30-year-old Professor Takahata, could care less about him while the other girls are causing pandemonium. (And, natch, Takahata-sensei is totally unaware of Asuna.) To make up for sneezing off her clothes on several occasions, Negi brews up a love potion for Asuna. You will have to suspend your disbelief - the idea of teenaged girls drooling over a 10-year-old boy, etc. - and if you can you are in for a treat: Akamatsu's drawing is marvelous and wild and a bit insane in places. Tongue-in-cheek: this is fun.
Gravitation is a romantic comedy about a nae young man trying to make it in the music industry. Shuichi Shindo is determined to be a rock star. He has, however, a few small problems. He can't play, and, according to the book description: "has no experience, no talent, and no band."
After finding a rock-star caliber guitarist and getting a gig, he is now set to show the world he has what it takes - and, in particular, that his lyrics are world class. At this point, however, a writer named Yuki Eiri hears the gibberish-like lyrics and excoriates him and the drivel he has produced.
Shuichi can't get the vitriolic criticism out of his head and forces his way into Yuki's life - eventually falling in love with her. A wonderful tale with one caveat: the English translation is only fair.
"Hadashi no Gen" (Barefoot Gen) is a Japanese comic book series about a boy who has survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
It begins as Japan is in the midst of the war. Gen is a normal, active boy who is more preoccupied with his own friends and life than that of the larger world around him.
This world, however, is turned upside-down by the horror of what happens on a clear day in August 1945. Gen is a strong boy who manages to maintain his sense of humor in the face of the most trying situations.
You will cheer along with him. Whatever your take on the use of the bomb, this is a compelling read. Barefoot Gen nearly brought a tear to the eye of this often cynical reviewer.
Machiko Hasegawa was the author and artiste behind the most popular cartoon
in modern Japanese history: Sazae-san. Her series was serialized
in the Asahi Shinbun newspaper from 1949 until 1974. Kicking off
in the dark and impoverished days following defeat in World War II, Sazae-san
was a light and witty daily ray of sunshine for a Japan struggling to rebuild.
In the course of its three decade run, it sold 62 million copies in book
form; moreover, it has been made into radio programs and an animated television
Sazae-san is an upbeat if slightly ditzy woman. She lives with her utterly ordinary family who suffer her malapropisms and silly behavior with aplomb. This is a perfect place to take a peek into a typical if idealized Japanese family and neighborhood--with one slightly odd member. The book contains the original Japanese text along with an English translation, so this is a wonderful work for those studying Japan and its everyday customs.
Best known for her Sazae-san series, Machiko Hasegawa's Granny
Mischief was in many ways a polar opposite to the cheerful Sazae-san.
Debuting in 1966, Granny Mischief is a cartoon series about one tough
little old woman. The image of a "grandmother" is in most cultures
that of a smiling, comforting, forgiving, and giving figure. Hasegawa's
Granny could not be more different. She is cruel and mischievous - in
particular to her family, friends, neighbors, and even the odd stranger.
Especially horrible (and deliciously funny) is her bullying of her daughter-in-law.
This is a perennial and favorite theme in Japanese tv, film, stage - and
real life. In one cartoon, Granny consoles and then helps a woman put up
a poster advertising a 1,000 yen reward for the woman's missing cat,
even going so far as to bring glue. In the next panel, the woman replaces
the poster with another now offering 2,000 in reward money. In the last
panel, though, we see Granny alone at home saying to a caged cat, "She'll
go even higher." She appeals to that side in all of us that is dying
to do this or that, but of course would never dream of actually carrying
out. Granny however gleefully acts out the evil fantasies we all nurture.
You will laugh along in recognition.
The book contains the original Japanese text along with an English translation, so this is a wonderful work for those studying Japan and its everyday customs.
Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan
by Osamu Tezuka
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 now available again from Amazon USA.
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