Thursday, January 03, 2008

Graphic Lit: Another manga roundup

There have been a number of interesting manga releases in the last few months, which means it's time for another roundup. Here's a look at some of the more notable titles:

by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, 584 pages, $24.95.

Two homosexual lovers -- one a Catholic priest, the other a psychotic serial killer -- are bound together by a childhood trauma involving exposure to a military-created poison gas that destroyed an entire town.

As the crazed killer begins a murderous search for the remaining stockpile of the gas that drove him insane, the priest is forced to admit that his beloved might be beyond redemption.

This is another off-the-rails thriller along the lines of "Ode to Kirihito" and is chock full of Tezuka's usual visual brilliance.

As for its sexual politics ... well, let's be generous and call it old-fashioned. Tezuka is obviously sympathetic to gay rights, but he can't help from lapsing into regrettable stereotypes (especially where women are concerned).

Despite this, "MW" is a captivating read, filled with sequences that will have your jaw on the floor, either from disbelief at Tezuka's cartooning prowess or at the various 90-degree turns the story takes.

"Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White"
by Taiyo Matsumoto, Viz, 624 pages, $29.95.

Heavily influenced by the work of European artists like Moebius, Matsumoto's "Tekkonkinkreet" loosely follows the adventures of two scraggly street youths, the violent, overprotective Black and the naive, childlike White, as they battle other gangs, the yakuza and the encroaching gentrification of their beloved "Treasure Town."

There are a lot of metaphors and symbolism at work here, and readers looking for a straightforward narrative complete with a satisfying, easily summed up conclusion will be disappointed.

et Matsumoto's strengths are considerable, not the least being his exaggerated, fluid design and masterful pacing. If you need extra incentive, this handsome "all-in-one" edition includes color art, posters and an interview with the director of the anime adaptation.

"With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child Vol. 1"
by Keiko Tobe, Yen Press, 528 pages, $14.99.

Newcomer Yen Press debuted its manga line a few months ago with this unconventional (for American manga readers anyway) story of a new mother who discovers that her child is autistic.

Though it occasionally lapses into awkward melodrama, "Light" plays its cards relatively straight, effectively showing the burdens and joys of coping with a developmentally disabled child without coming off as teachy or preachy.

It's a surprisingly effective and at times moving account of the serious curves life can throw you. I'd recommend it not just to those interested in the subject matter, but to anyone who has been hesitant about exploring manga up till now.

by Kazuo Umezu, IDW, 320 pages, $14.99.

"Reptilia" is a loosely connected trilogy of short stories from the godfather of Japanese horror ("The Drifting Classroom") concerning a hideous snake woman who likes to terrorize little girls (though she rarely does more than threaten).

Apart from a few stellar sequences, there's not much here to send shivers down your back. This is a book that was obviously originally made for older children, with scares more along the lines of "There's a monster under the bed! Boo!" than anything too gory or disturbing.

There's enough good stuff here for me to recommend it to Umezu fans (the snake lady is drawn in a deliciously creepy fashion), but don't go in expecting anything as stellar as "Classroom."

"Gakuen Alice Vol. 1"
by Tachibana Higuchi, Tokyopop, 192 pages, $9.99.

This ongoing series has been a huge hit in Japan, selling several million books so far. It's not hard to see why, as it offers an intriguing blend of "Harry Potter" and "X-Men"-style fantasy combined with more traditional shojo manga idioms.

Despondent that her best friend, Hotaru, has abandoned her to attend a mysterious, exclusive prep school, young Mikun follows her to the big city only to discover that the school is actually a secret training academy for those with mysterious, paranormal powers.

Can Mikun find a place for herself in this strange school? Does she possess any unique abilities that would allow her to attend?

The first volume stumbles a bit as it tries to answer these questions -- the artwork is a bit too cluttered for one thing -- but it's not without charm and should appeal to its core base of teen girls.



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