Thomas Siddell’s rendering of unusual students at a British boarding school is reminiscent (in an excellent fashion) in both art and characters to San Francisco resident Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin series. It’s interesting that both series though written by men are centered on extremely bright young women unfazed by the beasties around them.
Volume 1, Orientation, introduces us to a mix of technology, mythology, and magic. Antimony Carver attracts the mythical (and more ordinary paranormal) and possesses the magical, and her best friend Kat is the engineering and science genius. Rather than take the true novel form with the plot continuing from one chapter to the next, this book intersperses short stories only some of which obviously fit into the overall story arc. I expect that the open questions in this volume will be answered in future volumes. And then there are the one-pagers after each ‘chapter’; they provide comic relief and/or background (real and faux) on the stories’ mythological beings – a refreshing change from the juvenile jokes or writer whinings in most Japanese manga chapter breaks.
Manga by Natsumi Ando, story by Miyuki Kobayashi. A skinny 7th grade Japanese girl – who doesn’t look Japanese (outside of manga) with crotch-length strawberry blonde hair and big glistening over-sized brown eyes framed by long dark lashes – leaves her orphanage for an exclusive private school in search of her “Flan Prince”. Through her cooking she overcomes the mean girls and their parents while finding her prince – big eye roll. Amusing as a look at Japanese adolescents through a female manga filter with a dollop of recipes. For example, the omrice recipe (a rice ball with chicken and vegetables wrapped with a thin sheet of egg) calls for fresh chicken and vegetables combine with powdered consomme (bullion?) and ketchup (maybe ketchup in Japan is closer to tomato paste rather than the sweetened sludge common in the US?). “If you top it off with ketchup, it’ll taste much better!!”
If you can ignore the soft porn illustrations of nubile Japanese adolescent school girls (rendered near-naked by food ecstasy), then Volume 1 of the Food Wars! series is a fun read in the Japanese cooking school genre. (See the Food in Fiction post for a review from a food perspective.) Since the series is published in Shonen Jump I assume that the gratuitous (and generally unrealistic) female breasts are to appeal to adolescent boys; are Japanese per-adolescents too young for that exposure? I assume that Japanese girls (and women) are so used to the sexist statements that they don’t even register other than to add to feelings of inadequacy. And the otaku are probably drawn to scenes such as the demurely dressed 15-year old school girl (third year of junior high in Japan as opposed to a second or third year (sophomore or junior year) of high school in the US) with her bodice ripped open by a giant squid in response to tasting squid legs in peanut sauce. (To quote, “The taste of the squid legs was so wrong… …and turned into a flavor so twisted, I felt like I had been molested from head to toe. (An excerpt from Diary of a Schoolgirl.)”) To be fair, in addition to the women such as the Urban Planner with the “Boing” breasts there are heavily muscled male Adonis-types with chiseled chins striking swishy poses. Another oh-so sensitive moment depicts an emaciated monk ripping off his robes and abandoning his fast (and faith) in order to eat a fabulous restaurant meal. In a plus in the ‘positive’ column, the lead male character and his chef father are shown with squid legs dangling from the corners of their mouths instead of (taste-bud as well as lung killing) cigarettes. Also on the positive side, in going from a one-shot story to the series the assistant to the cooking school’s lead student (she of the “divine tongue” and granddaughter of the school’s founder) has been changed from an over-the-top, unlikely adult-looking Italian chef / cooking school student with a stereotypical, puppy-doggish female cooking school student… though one could argue that having an Italian Fabio chef currying favor with the female lead is a lot more empowering than the more expected subservient teenaged girl – an argument mitigated by the lesbian and domme overtones between the two teens. (“Do you want the privilege of tasting my newest dish?” “Y-yes, Miss. Please!” “Heh heh… What an eager girl you are.” – voiced encircled in red (? dark grey) roses and stars.)
Erina Nakiri is mercilessly portrayed as overly endowed with long wispy hair and ear-length side bangs that stick out to give a vague impression of elven ears. And in this volume we’re introduced to the even more unrealistically proportioned Ikumi Mito. Since when are miniskirts or short shorts and bikini tops practical attire for professional chefs? And I’d think that her boobs would get in the way of her cleaver swing. At least her hair is fairly short – though the extra-long that looks like an antennae is kind of silly looking. The MC for the volume’s major cooking battle (shokugeki) is a more conservatively shaped freshman girl – but she still has the long hair, doe’s eyes, and marital career aspirations. (So why slog along in the country’s toughest school for chefs if your ambition is to get married???)
“Polaris Crone”, Fumio Daimido, matron (though Fumio is a masculine given name) of the Polaris dorm in which the hero resides, bears a resemblance to the Wikipedia illustration of Polaris as pictured in the X-Men series.
‘chazuke‘ typically refers to a Japanese dish of rice and green tea (much as Americans eat cereal and milk) with savory toppings.
poêlé – according to this volume, poêlé is a French sautéing variation. The verb poêler mean ‘pan-fry’. In context, using the poêlé method a chef sautés an oily food such as fish to cook out a strongly flavored oil which is then drained off and a lighter tasting oil is then used in the rest of the preparation.
seer fish refers to mackerel.
chankonabe is a protein-heavy stew traditionally eaten by sumo wrestlers as part of a bulking-up regime.
Isshiki is depicted wearing a demon mask while sauteing “beans” (roasted soybeans presumably) left over from the Japanese Setsubun holiday, held on February 3rd to mark the beginning of Spring. Isshiki may have been the one wearing a demon mask and at whom his dorm mates tossed roasted soybeans (or peanuts) to drive away the evil spirits for another year.
The ‘bowl in “Donburi Bowl” is a redundant translation since ‘donburi’ means bowl. The dish is simmered (basically stewed) savory ingredients over rice in a bowl.
Feodor Chaliapin was a Russian opera singer, active through 1937, and a pioneer of a naturalistic acting style. While on tour in Japan in 1936, the Chaliapin Steak was created for him. He is best known for his rendition of The Song of the Volga Boatman.
A Shonen Jump serial that has been collected into a manga, reworked into anime and a theater show, and translated into English; Blue Exorcist has all the hallmark characters of Japanese teen manga: skinny, tall boys with interesting hair; foppish, tall men with well-stocked wardrobes; a Nippon Bratz doll will a barely-there wardrobe and a drinking problem; sulky, skinny schoolgirls; and a self-effacing, demure, nurturing, and well-endowed female sidekick (who in this series often wears a traditional kimono to class). With echoes of Fruits Basket, Vampire Knight, the early volumes of Bleach, and Black Butler, this series calls upon its sometimes early teens, sometimes early twenties to go to school, fight evil, and to resolve their inner conflicts and relationship issues. This is definitely not a WASP take on exorcists; no eschewing the sins of the flesh for these novitiates. As indicated in the Blue Exorcist Wikipedia article, the artwork – including battle scene panels – is easy to follow. If you overlook the sexism and homophobia, then the series is tolerable.
(See the dedicated One Piece post)
Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden
Yuu Watase started Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden in 2003 as a prequel to her eighteen-volume Fushigi Yugi series (completed in 1996). In both series the book The Universe of the Four Gods transports a Japanese teenaged girl into the world of the book. The timeline of the prequel is early 1920s Japan which makes for a more interesting heroine than the contemporary setting of the heroine’s original setting in Fushigi Yugi.
Volume 10: Takiko, suffering from tuberculosis (TB; “consumption of the lungs”) has returned to help the Celestial Warriors. Even in contemporary times, untreated TB has a 50% fatality rate. Transmission is through saliva. The first successful antibiotic treatment wasn’t developed until 1946. “1910 Japan acquires a source of cheap and abundant sugar on Formosa. Incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in Japan rises dramatically.” (Health experts estimate that one-third of the global population is infected with TB, but TB generally remains latent. The primary activation trigger is an infection or other agent that compromises the subject’s immune system – hence the commingling of HIV and TB in contemporary times and presumably of switching to a diet higher in inflammatories.) The Universe of the Four Gods doesn’t have TB but has the fatal “Sinner’s Affliction” – perhaps a reference to syphilis?
The Emperor is marrying off his daughters for political advantage (with the bonus that they’re out of harm’s way and can continue to reproduce) and hoarding supplies. Pretty typical bad guy behavior.
I’d rather spend more time in 1920s Japan than in the Universe of the Four Gods, but the earnestness and innocence of the characters are appealing regardless of the setting.
Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama was reasonably well-drawn but too hard to follow as it switched time-frames and realities in a mid-apocalyptic world. Furthermore the teen characters were too angsty and unremittingly earnest to be enjoyable – at least to this adult American reader.
Superheros and Ninjas
(See the dedicated Naruto post)
Volume 1: There are translation notes at the end which should be read in the flow of the story – though they aren’t critical to understanding the main flow of the story. For example, on page 11 the House Steward Tanaka mistakenly uses “Ajixmoto” instead of sugar in the lemonade which Ciel passes along to Sebastian to finish drinking. Sebastian’s subsequent heartburn doesn’t make much sense without the translation note’s explanation that Ajixmoto (Aji x moto?) is a Japanese brand of MSG – umami lemonade doesn’t sound very tasty. This explanation also casts Ciel (French for ‘sky’ – an odd name for an English Earl; then again, the maid’s name is ‘Mey-Rin’) in an unflattering light for pawning off a nasty beverage on his unsuspecting butler.
Amusing that the author had to do a lot of research on England for the story but depicts Sebastian’s research of “Japanese food culture” as part of preparing a special Japanese-style meal. Though I didn’t notice it at the time, it’s a bit odd that an English manor would be stocked with dishes for a Japanese tea ceremony. Sebastian provides a synopsis of the history of donburi and its origin in houhan.
The cover piece of Chapter 2 is typical shojo. Ciel is lounging in a wing-back chair wearing faintly Gothic outfit complete with a skill and crossbones belt buckle on one hip and a big cabbage rose eye patch affixed to a crown of thorns circlet. Over his head is a mobile of black butterflies. To his left Sebastian is presenting a three-tiered desert tray. The desert on the bottom tier is a skull with a rose in the right eye socket mimicking Ciel’s look.
In this chapter we are introduced to Ciel’s fiance, Elizabeth, who has invaded the manor with cuteness in order to have a dance party. To prepare for the party, Sebastian teaches Ciel the Viennese Waltz… which is a bit odd as an initial ballroom dance. Though the dance traditionally only has a few steps, the speed of the dance and the closed position makes it difficult to master. A regular waltz is a much easier first dance.
Sebastian is pretty brutal at the end of Chapter 3 – he gets the information that he wants from the bully thugs and then causes them to tip over the edge of the cliff to their deaths.
In Chapter 4, the comic relief Phantomhive house-staff debates eating the apple raisin cake. Baldo (the cook) gets in such a tither that Mey-Rin urges him to drink milk to get more calcium in order to combat grouchiness – yeah, right. Back at the Italian mafia bad guy’s house, in a cliched moment from their hiding place in the wall, the thugs shoot through a fake painting in an attempt to gun down Sebastian. “I do believe I taught you how to beg?” – eh? that’s just creepy.
In the author’s end not, he says that he voted for Sebastian to have the ‘7-3 hairstyle’ – ?
Wabisabi, Masaaki Sakai, hoihoi = shoo, Gokiburi Hoihoi = Japanese brand of cockroach trap, The Wild Shogun, taketonbo
Created by Robert Kirkman (writer and letterer) and Cory Walker (penciler and inker); colored by Bill Crabtree. Published by Image Comics, www.imagecomics.com.
Volume 1: Invincible – Family Matters provides the back story for Invincible, the superhero alias for Mark, a high schooler in Twin Pines Middle America, his superhero father, and his heroic but physically normally abled mother. The story is a little choppy at points and some of the jumps back and forth in time require a pause to sort out. Fortunately Kirkman and Walker allow the story to breath and they don’t rush the important points such as the family eating dinner together – the latter instance of which consists of four frames of the same image with silence in the first two and the mother asking “So…” in the third followed by “…anything interesting happen to either of you today?” in the fourth. The sense of tired relaxation into the family routine is palpable – it’s the power of the mother to keep it all together that allows her super but perhaps not totally invincible loved ones to minimize the impact of evildoers.
Volume 2: Invincible – Eight Is Enough is admirable for allowing the characters to breathe. For example, we have a two page sequence of our teen superhero sleeping in on a Saturday morning: eight frames of the same visual, only three of which have an accompanying text box. On the downside we have a definite ‘to-be-continued’ storyline at the end of the volume but my local library doesn’t (yet) have Volumes 3 – 8 in its collection. I was amused by the sequence in which Mark’s parents take advantage of his absence to spend the afternoon making repeated trips to the bedroom… but questioned their need to hide that from Mark – and Mark’s reaction to their less-than-perfect coverup: “Holy Crap… I am not prepared to deal with this tonight. I’ll um… be upstairs… until I move out [for college].” As a bit of math humor, Mark’s friend William wears a T-shirt reading “Magnum π” on the front (and “Take it Brandon” on the back – not sure if the back is alluding to ‘be random’, a Tom Selleck as Magnum PI saying, or some other pop culture allusion).
Volumes 3 – 8: Lots of little references add to the richness of the story and art. For example, at the beginning of Issue Nine Allen the Alien saves a space crew that is a definite homage to Star Trek: The Next Generation complete with a bald Captain (Piccard) and a green-tinged Commander with long, wavy, raven locks (Troi). Grammar quibble time: ‘shoe-in’ instead of ‘shoo-in’ (unless the comment in reference to the selection of the new leader of the Guardians of the Globe was a deliberate slight?). The cover art for Issue Ten depicts Mark in his favorite comic book shop with a poster on the back wall which features a rear-end shot of Atom Eve on all fours looking back over her right shoulder – a pose classic to Japanese Lolita manga. Later in Issue Ten Mark meets the creator of Space Dog who proceeds to gently poke fun at himself for reusing panels.
This series has lots of violent confrontations – but the mayhem isn’t mindless: Mark prefers negotiating with words rather than fists when possible and the battles are part of the overarching plot rather than opportunities to acquire or test new powers. Furthermore, as with the first two volumes the biggest battles are mental and emotional… but done in a realistic fashion and leavened with humor to keep the characters likable and in the light – no emo, brooding, angsty antiheroes. I particularly liked Mark’s struggles with balancing (non-superhero) girlfriend, school, and supporting his mother with his frequent disappearances to save humanity – and even more so his mother’s fortitude in coming to terms with her husband’s falsehoods and an empty nest – definitely not usual superhero comic territory.
Invincible Compendium Two collects comic issues 48 – 96. In keeping with the first 47, the second 48 goes far beyond cooking up new villains to working through the complexities of making a lasting, sustainable difference for planetary populations. Though the characters’ continued emotional and physical maturation is interesting, this collection is ultimately unsatisfying because it essentially stops mid-story. Also, some of the lessons learned and themes – such as talk first, fight later (if still needed) – are a bit repetitive. Definitely a series worth continuing to read.
Tiger & Bunny
(The following comments are based on Volume 1.) Tiger & Bunny (which is also an anime) is typical Japanese manga: it’s hard to tell the guys from the girls… until you realize that the girly men are the males in contrast to the Barbie doll figured females. (The under-20 females have a proportionally similar figure minus the backache inducing breasts.) The basic storyline is an abundance of minor superheroes leads to a media engine constantly spewing hero activities and a trading card / game show style point system for the heroes. Setting aside the unrealistic body types the artwork is pretty good for the genre; it’s the hackneyed storyline and dialog that rate this series a ‘skip’… and I doubt that it’s much more readable in the original Japanese. I find it hard to believe that the anime, video game, or stage play would be any better.
Dim Sum Warriors
Dim Sum Warriors : Enter the Dumpling
Volume 1 of Dim Sum Warriors : Enter the Dumpling introduces readers to anthropomorphized dim sum warriors. My guess is that a group of not-so-starving NYC ABCs documented their weird dreams induced by a dim sum meal with way too much MSG, black tea, and deep fried items. I’m not going out of my way to seek out Volume 2.
Groo Hell on Earth by Sergio Aragones (of Mad Magazine “Spy vs. Spy” fame) combines a somewhat heavy-handed morality play with an amoral antihero. I just don’t see Groo as an everyman; he’s a fool, but a hapless one – no moe here. Perhaps I could have cut him some slack if he had a good heart balancing his lack of wit, native cunning, and charm; instead his primary desire is to find people to attack. While I agree with the basic premise of the morality play – resources spent on war should instead be directed to improving the living conditions of future generations – I didn’t find the Sage and the Prince to be very compelling characters. That said, I applaud this comic if it gets more people shrinking their environmental footprint.
The Good Neighbors
The Good Neighbors (Kin, Kith, and Kind) trilogy hinges on the actions of half-faerie Rue to deal with the dystopian future set in motion by her kinsman. I picked up this series for the illustrations by Ted Naifeh – but I much prefer the works he wrote as well as drew. Ted’s precocious preteen protagonists (Courtney and Polly) are much more entertaining and outlandishly believable than Holly Black’s purported high-schooler Rue. Admittedly Ted bears some of the responsibility for depicting overly pretty, overly mature characters; but the many instances of sexual congress are Holly’s doing. A few months ago I caught the last bit of a set by the best, local, high schooler, angsty rock band; they were surprisingly good… but bore little resemblance to the characters of The Good Neighbors playing in packed theater and club settings complete with nubile groupies. That aside, the incorporation of traditional faerie stories into a modern setting was well done – and the dancing scene in book two was a nice bonus (one frame in particular depicted Rue and her partner doing either a Lindy or a hustle).
Johnny Hiro [The Skills to Pay the Bills] by Fred Chao is an amusing, elliptical pseudo-memoir of a late 20-something Japanese-American who’s found his calling in the world of sushi but is somewhat frustrated and reflective on his lack of progress toward financial stability due in large part to living in NYC. I don’t see that this would appeal to younger teens – but there’s no reason for this to be restricted to the adult graphic novel shelves. The art work is at one with the story – I particularly enjoyed the two slender cats co-residing with Johnny Hiro and his (Japanese) girlfriend Mayumi. Mayumi in conversation with Mr. Kitty Cat: “Where is Miss Kitty Cat? Is she hiding under bed again? I know, it such a hard decision. Which is better smell: Raw Fish [Johnny’s smell acquired working at the sushi restaurant] or dirty underwear?” “Lucky my boyfriend have plenty of both.”
Dystopian and Futuristic
Based on my skip-through of Volume 1 this series is a ‘pass’ unless you’re a big fan of Planet of the Apes and/or bugs – especially giant, anthropomorphized cockroaches. I was particularly annoyed by the character profiles at the end of volume: the women’s profiles included their (bra) cup sizes; equality demands that the men’s profiles include their condom sizes – oh, but of course size doesn’t matter.
Cirque du Freak
A graphic novel version by Takahiro Arai of the 12-volume series written by Darren O’Shaughnessy under his pen name Darren Shan. While Darren Shan’s first language (and that of the book series) is English, the graphic novel version was originally written in Japanese and published in Japan before getting translated back into English for publication in English-speaking countries. So while the characters and plot are English (American in the original; British in the Japanese interpretation), the art and interactions reflect a distinct Japanese sensibility. For example, in Volume 1 we have shiny, big manga eyes on preteen boys; a younger sister wearing a sailor shirt and pleated skirt while lounging around the house after school; deferential students; and a family dinner scene in which the younger sister shares her “My Dreams For the Future” essay in which she wants to be just like her (homemaker) mother and the brother, the main character, says that he wants to be like his dad – leading the father to blush. Also note the “roast chicken” dinner which looks at lot more like a roast turkey complete with paper booties on the ends of the drumsticks. (The brother and sister appear to attend private, single-sex schools complete with uniforms – including ties for the boys – though the setting is in a quiet, middle-class suburb. That combined with the boys’ after school preference for informal games of soccer for money over TV-watching place the graphic novel in England rather than America – in the US the school would be public and co-ed and would have a dress code but no uniforms. Further, the pickup games would be basketball not soccer; both sexes would play soccer but as part of intramural teams.)
Though there’s a gap of over a year between Volumes 2 and 3, Darren is still relegated to wearing the suit and tie that he was buried in. Now while he ages much more slowly than a human, his clothing’s resistance to deterioration due to outside forces is not likewise degraded. Hmmm – does a half-vampire shed skin oil and excrete bodily oils at a rate proportional to aging? Or is the rate more effected by environmental factors such as sunlight exposure, diet, and ambient temperature and humidity? Does a half-vampire sweat in response to running at vampire-speed for a time period equivalent to a human running at human-speed? In any case, his suit is in unrealistically good shape. Crepsley provides him with money so why hasn’t he bought any new clothes? Or at least some (new) underwear? Chances are that he wasn’t buried wearing underwear – for that matter the suit wouldn’t have been wearable post-burial since it would have been cut up the back in order to get it on to Darren’s “corpse”. Fortunately he gets a new stage outfit early in this volume; unfortunately he then proceeds to exclusively wear that outfit for the rest of the story… and is still wearing it yet six years later at the start of Volume 4. Stage wear does not make for inconspicuous street wear – especially not for a young and pretty looking boy accompanied by a not obviously related, well-dressed, middle-aged, Caucasian man. Other Japanese influences in this volume are Darren’s drama over first girlfriend and first kiss, the artificial sit-com quality dialog in the “meet the parents” scene, and Crepsley’s changing from street shoes to sauna shoes (slip-on sandals) for the long train ride back to the Cirque.
Evra has visibly matured in the six years between Volumes 3 and 4 and though Darren has not, one would assume that both would have equally matured intellectually – but Darren doesn’t seem to have progressed much. Emotionally neither would be fully mature given their still-fluctuating hormones – presumably impulse control in a young (half-)vampire is delayed along with physical development. Mr. Tiny makes another appearance. As depicted he’s more comical than scary. Must be too much hammy flamboyance combined with an attitude closer to the Joker or Lex Luther than the Prophet of Doom. This volume lacks the content to be a standalone novella – and I found it annoying that Crepsley waited seven years to share important vampire history and rules with Darren… why wait until he gets to Vampire Mountain? He’s worse than a old-school parent on the topic of sex ed.