Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Graphic Lit: Manga roundup

Sometimes it seems like there's a new manga series being released every day, not to mention the countless series still going. With that in mind, I thought it might be a good time to look at some of the more worthwhile manga titles that have hit stores recently:

"Apollo's Song"
by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, 544 pages, $19.95.

Even by Tezuka's standards, this book goes way into Loopyville.

Consider: A man who likes to harm copulating animals -- his mom was a prostitute, so he has some sex/death issues -- is thrown into a mental asylum, given electric shocks, visited by the goddess of love and cursed to forever fall in love with the same woman, in different incarnations, throughout eternity.

From there it gets really weird, as the protagonist, Shogo, travels back to Nazi Germany, ends up on an island surrounded by uber-intelligent animals, travels to a future inhabited by sexless clones and takes up marathon running.

That's a lot of story for any cartoonist, and not even the great Tezuka is able to weave all these threads into one cohesive story. His take on love and sex -- originally intended for elementary school kids, believe it or not -- also suffers from outdated attitudes about gender.

Still, it has enough stellar sequences, and is absolutely loony enough in its premise, for me to recommend. I'm in constant awe of Tezuka's ability to portray tension or action on a page, tightening things with a lot of diagonal, narrow panels and then letting loose with an expansive splash page.

Consider this the equivalent of Steven Spielberg's "A.I." It's too flawed to be named a classic, but worth indulging in, anyway.

"MPD-Psycho Vol. 1"
by Sho-U Tajima and Eiji Otsuka, Dark Horse, 184 pages, $10.95.

The MPD in the title stands for "multiple-personality disorder," which the main character, a retired police profiler, has. The fact that one of those personalities might be a deranged serial killer complicates matters, as the former cop is on the trail of some even nastier psychos.

The plot is basically enough to lift what would otherwise be a routine police procedural above the ordinary. The high level of surreal gore makes "CSI" look like "Romper Room." Anyone remotely squeamish should stay away.

There are hints of a vast conspiracy, with killers sporting bar codes on their eyeballs, but even that feels a little overly familiar. The premise is strong enough -- and disturbing enough -- to make me want to check out the next couple of volumes.

"Gon Vol. 1"
by Masashi Tanaka, CMX, $5.99.

Incredibly cute but utterly vicious, Gon is a tough little dinosaur set loose in a world full of mammals. He doesn't interact with people or any urban landscapes, though. His milieu is strictly the natural world, and like a destructive force of nature, Gon mows down grizzly bears, coyotes, beavers, lions and anything else that gets in his way.

Tanaka's art is astoundingly realistic, which adds an interesting bit of tension to the stories, which in all other aspects resemble a Chuck Jones cartoon.

Those two opposing styles help make Gon's actions seem not just comedic, but often rather cruel, suggesting that Tanaka is trying to say something about the natural order of things. Or perhaps not. It's a pretty fun book either way.

"Millennium Snow Vol. 1"
by Bisco Hatori, Viz, 200 pages, $8.99.

Sickly teenager Chiyuki Matsuoka meets up with nebbish vampire Toya, who's so emo he can't bring himself to suck blood, and romantic sparks fly. Add an angst-ridden werewolf and a smart-alec bat to the mix and you have the makings of a screwball comedy.

I kid, but "Snow" is cute and well-made enough to attract its target audience -- young girls.

"Audition Vol. 1"
by Kye Young Chon, Drama Queen, 176 pages, $11.99.

This manwha (Korean manga) concerns two women -- one a detective, the other a spoiled rich girl -- and their desperate attempts to put together the ultimate boy band or risk losing a fabulous inheritance.

Chon's art and storytelling are limited and a little clumsy at times -- his body proportions seem occasionally off and characters have the odd habit of speaking despite having closed mouths.

In an odd way though, that ends up being part of the book's charm.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



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