Okay, due to a number of factors all working more or less simultaneously, I recently decided to get past my prejudices and wander into the world of manga. (Some of my prejudices…it’ll still be a cold cold day before I’m watching anime again.) I wanted to share with you some of my discoveries. A lot of these were recommended by Michael, who I thank for pointing me towards them. Here are the titles I have explored (all are the first volume):
Planetes (by Makoto Yukimura, Tokyopop) – This is what got me started. The owner of my comics shop commented on their site that this was worth checking out, even if you didn’t care for manga. I did, and am glad I did. It’s beautiful. I love the art, I love the characters, I love the story. I highly highly highly recommend this book for manga fans and sci fi fans alike. It’s first-rate.
Sanctuary (by Sho Fumimura/Ryoichi Ikegami, Viz) – A recommendation from Michael. Interesting crime drama with some good characters. Though I must say, the way that the main character, Hojo, is drawn, I expected him to bust into some Spandau Ballet or Roxy Music. As others have pointed out, though, there seems to be a pretty misogynistic streak through here. Women don’t much exist except to satisfy the male characters’ sexual urges, and the female cop who could be a good foil regularly misplaces her brain. Still, I’ll probably pick up the next one.
Rebirth (by “Woo”, Tokyopop) – This is the story of a vampire reborn and looking for vengeance, hanging out with an “exorcist” and the daughter of a paranormal investigator. While reading this, I thought, “This is odd. This is goofy. This is dopey. Well, now that I’m in the swing of it, this is less goofy. This is kind of fun, actually. Holy cow, this is goofy.” I’m assuming there’s a videogame, anime, or card game based on this? Because otherwise I’m not sure why the battles resemble Dragonball Z fights and why I find out, in a sidebar, what “level” a monster is. There’s a sense of fun about it, but all in all, there’s too many elements here that are originally the reason manga made me itch, not the least of which are the constant panty shots on the (non-vampiric) main character. You can improve it by taking a drink whenever someone says “Is this the end?”
Battle Royale (by Koshun Takami/Masayuki Taguchi, Tokyopop) – Dan brought over this movie a while back and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The manga seems to be based on the book, so while it’s similar to the movie, there are enough differences (particularly in the students’ backstories) to make it worthwhile. The plot concerns a class of high school students that has been deposited on an island and ordered to fight to the death. How this affects each of the students is important, but don’t get too attached to any of them. I’ve read volumes 1 and 2 of this one.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (by Hayao Miyazaki, Viz) – Early manga by the same guy that did Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. It concerns a post-apocalyptic future where the remaining dregs of mankind threaten to be wiped out by giant insects and encroaching fungoid forests of corruption. You can see a lot of ideas that would be re-explored in his later works here. I like the art and the plotting, and will definitely be getting more of this. (And yet I didn’t really like his anime. I prefer reading comics to watching movies, I suppose.)
Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M (by Masahito Soda, Viz) – I got this one because I wanted to check out a title that was really unlike any American comics titles. This is the story of a rookie firefighter coming to terms with a difficult job. No giant swords, no robots, no guns, just a guy learning how to be a firefighter. The artwork gets to me a bit…it’s really thin and shaky in places. And the fire chief looks like George Bush to me, which bug me, but that’s my own deal. It’s a fun and interesting read, though not for everyone. They maintain a solid quota of about fifteen exclamation points per page. The pacing is a little odd. When Daigo’s High School Teacher Mentor is first shown, you know someone’s under her lighting matches, and eventually she’s gonna start burning…I just didn’t figure it would happen so soon in the series. I’m about halfway through it.
Purchased and unread so far:
Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Star (Cain Kuga, Tokyopop)
The Kindachi Case Files: The Mummy’s Curse (Yozaburo Kanari/Fumiya Sato, Tokyopop)
Now, lest you think I’ve transformed into an otaku boy who will now insist that anything produced in the land of the rising sun is automatically superior to home-grown fare, I assure you I still think a load of the manga they’re bringing over here is crap. Take a look at some of these sentences from synopses on Tokypop’s site:
“16-year-old Ryan doesn’t realize that supernatural beings descend on his town at night, but when he stumbles on the Faerie Bath, he ends up becoming guardian of Fanta, a grounded – and very fetching – faerie.”
“The enigmatic Sohma family shares a great secret, its members are possessed by spirits of the Chinese Zodiac, and when they are hugged by members of the opposite sex, they transform into their Zodiac animal!”
“When mild-mannered Collin Meeks’ cat Catreece develops a taste for surfing the fully interactive VIS, Collin has his buffer full trying to keep her out of trouble!”
“In the future, the most popular game in the world is Angelic Layer. Contestants must raise and train their own ‘Angels’ (or fighting dolls) to compete in tournaments.”
“With arms made of weapons, the power of flight, and retractable body armor, Melan is a powerful bodyguard indeed.”
“When Mink rushes to buy the latest CD by her favorite pop star, Illiya, she winds up instead with a software disc from the future that allows her to become whomever she wants.”
“Hideki’s luck changes when he discovers Chi – an adorable but seemingly stupid Persocom – tied up in a pile of trash. His first robot companion turns out to be a lot more responsibility than he expected, and she gets him into quite a few embarrassing situations.”
“When he sees his crush, Risa, he transforms into his alter ego, the phantom thief Dark Mousy. Unfortunately, when Dark Mousy sees his crush, Risa’s twin Riku, he transforms back into Daisuke.”
“After the abduction of his brother Kotaro by the Machine Empire, Teppei Takamiya joins forces with X, one of several highly-advanced, artificially intelligent machines known as B’ts (pronounced ‘beat’), to rescue him.”
Now, granted, a lot of these are no goofier than some of the stuff that shows up in Previews on a regular basis. That’s my point, though. There’s a lot of bad comics and some good comics, and some of each is American and some of each is Japanese. Rather than having idiotic discussions about which format and country is better, why not point out which titles — from either source — are worth reading?
EDIT: Please use the “contact” button to the left if you have other titles to recommend.