Monthly Archives: August 2010

August MMF: Yotsuba&! and Chi’s Sweet Home

Hello everyone, this is my entry for the Manga Moveable Feast this month. You can view more reviews and essays on Yotsuba&! and other kid-appropriate manga over at Good Comics For Kids.

Summaries:

Yotsuba&! volume 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma is about a young girl, Yotsuba, and her father, who have just moved to a new neighborhood. As they get adjusted to their new location, they quickly become friends with the girls who live in the house next door, especially Fuuka, the middle daughter. The volume consists of short stories and adventures involving Yotsuba and either her father, her father’s ridiculously tall friend Jumbo or the girls next door.

Chi’s Sweet Home volume 1 by Konami Kanata is the story of a lost little kitten who gets rescued by a young family, despite the fact that they can’t have pets in their apartment. Chi and the family adjust to each other and the readers are treated to short stories about being housebroken, wanting to claw the furniture, running away and various other things that pets do.

My opinions:

I have no problems with the stories or the art in either Chi’s Sweet Home or Yotsuba&! In both manga, the art is clean and simple, yet detailed enough to interest the reader in the backgrounds and not just the characters. In Chi’s Sweet Home, the manga is in color, giving it a neat, but watercolor-like feel. (Oh, the magic of a skilled hand with Copic markers.) Both manga feature succinct storytelling that allows for those little moments that convey simple actions and emotions effectively while not getting too hung up on those moments either. And, most importantly, these manga are both perfectly appropriate for kids. The raunchiest it gets is in Yotsuba&! when Jumbo tries to flirt a little with Asagi, the eldest daughter, makes some light joke about being comfortable “in the buff” and calls her attractive.

Despite both these manga being appropriate for children, I feel like Yotsuba&! isn’t a manga for children at all. Instead it is a manga for adults who want to read about children being cute. Basically it’s like a Japanese version of Kids Say the Darnest Things. While this is all perfectly fine for anyone who’s got a few years between them and being a kid, I’m just not convinced most kids would be entertained long enough to keep reading. For one, I can see older kids reading this and going, “Why’s this girl so weird/stupid/dumb?” and walking away. Younger kids (kids around her age) won’t keep reading because they don’t understand or because Yotsuba just isn’t that funny when you’re that age. They won’t get the jokes about global warming or why it’s funny that Yotsuba cannot pronounce it. In the end, Yotsuba is a comic that is meant for adults to laugh at the cute things that young children do, specifically this little oddling that Azuma has created. I’m not claiming to be an expert on what kid’s will understand, relate to and want to read, but the intended audience of this manga is really clear to me. It just also happens to be a manga that you can safely give to kids.

Chi’s Sweet Home, on the other hand, is definitely more intended for kids despite having run in a seinen manga magazine. It is nothing but the funny, simple moments of a kitten and it’s adopted family. It’s meant for anyone to enjoy so any kid who likes animals will love it. Plus there are enough visual cues for children to laugh at or relate to than in Yotsuba&!, which is one of the charm points in this manga: Chi’s hilarious and cute expressions. Even if you read this manga to a three year-old, I’d bet they’d giggle at Chi’s teary-eyed faces and cute kitten antics.

At the same time, I’m a little bit dissatisfied with editorial decisions both manga. Yen Press has a habit of subtitling in sound effects with both the romanization of the text and the English-language sound effect. It’s nit-picky, I know. But it’s bothered me in every single Yen Press book I’ve read and will probably continue to bother me in the future.

As for Chi’s Sweet Home, there’s heavy use of “baby talk” in the form of the letters ‘r’ or ‘l’ being turned into ‘w’, amongst other things. While this would work if you were reading aloud to your kid, wouldn’t a young reader get tripped up by the misspelling? Also, the “baby talk” is inconsistent and rather jarring when it appears. I found myself getting yoinked out of my reading experience and frowning every time the “baby talk” came back again. The manga would have been perfectly fine without it. Also bothersome to me was the price for Chi’s Sweet Home. While I understand why it’s priced higher than regular manga with the beautiful color pages, if someone less familiar with manga came along, they might find it too prohibitive for such a small book. Or worse, a parent shopping in a children’s section would probably pass it over for a higher quantity of less expensive children’s books. These are hard economic times and I imagine parents are some of the people who are the most worried about how they spend their money. Surely there might have been a way to bring the cost down a few dollars? I know Vertical’s not been having any problems selling the book, so maybe a lower price could have been possible without hurting the publisher too much.

Either way, I recommend both manga for anyone who wants a good laugh. Chi’s Sweet Home is great for kids, adults and cat lovers of all ages and the quality of the color pages is fantastic. Yotsuba&! is a fun read for the adults in the house and although it may or may not capture your child’s interest, you could put it in the kids’ reach without any worries.

10 Comments

Filed under manga, opinion, reviews

10 Years of Lovin’ Manga

I just realized the other day that my 10th anniversary of being a manga fan passed without me realizing it. (Sort of, my birthday was also that day and I certainly didn’t forget that.)

When I got into manga, I was already watching Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z on Toonami whenever I went to visit my dad, but I hadn’t really learned the difference between it and all the rest of the shows on Cartoon Network. Then I had my Bat Mitzvah and my parents took me on an fateful six week long trip to England, Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.

Thus, it was on a Nile river cruise where I met a Japanese-American girl with a copy of Animerica Extra. Being the only two people on board of the same age, we quickly bonded and I fell head over heels for Fushigi Yugi. So much so that at the end of our trip, I purposefully stumbled upon a comic book store in London and made my dad buy me a copy.

Now that I think about it, some of the content in that magazine wasn’t really appropriate for a freshly minted 13 year-old girl (Video Girl Ai, anyone?), but I didn’t care as long as there was Fushigi Yugi involved. That Hotohori sure was dreamy.

If you’d told me then that I would be working in the manga industry in ten years, I probably would have squealed with fangirlish glee. Back then I didn’t even KNOW there was really a job to be had working on this stuff. (Back then, perusing the Viz catalog of stuff I couldn’t afford to buy and trying to copy the drawing style of Yuu Watase was as good as it got for me.)

Ten years and thousands of dollars later and I can honestly say I’m still hooked.

Any interesting stories about how you got into manga, dear readers?

60 Comments

Filed under manga

Webcomics Wednesdays: Recommendations Up the Kazoo!

Well, I would have had a nice, shinier post for you today, but things got a little turned around last night when I started to work on this post (way too late, might I add.)

So instead, here are a ton of recommendations of webcomics that I read and enjoy:

Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery by Rick Smith: It’s about bicycling nerds. It’s the first bicycling webcomic I’ve ever come across and while it can be slow sometimes, it’s a pretty funny look at both bicyclists and non-bicyclists.

Blip by Sage Leaves: This webcomic starts off as nothing that extraordinary, but begins to weave itself into an interesting tale of a seemly normal girl positively surrounded by supernatural entities who are battling for a mysterious force that she possesses.

Multiplex by Gordon McAlpin: I used to work at two movie theaters, so I became interested in this webcomic for the concessionist and usher in-jokes, but Multiplex actually has a lot of great humor, drama and, of course, movie jokes.

SQPR Blues by Klio: A beautifully drawn and historically accurate ancient Roman drama. Have I mentioned I’m a huge sucker for historical stuff?

The Meek by Der-shing Helmer: A fantasy graphic novel with gorgeous full-color art and some seriously interesting characters. I’m looking forward to where this one is going.

Ellerbisms by Mark Ellerby: An autobiographical webcomic by a published cartoonist in the UK, Ellerbisms chronicles his life, frustrations, love and little hilarious moments. This guy isn’t a pro for nothing, my friends, it’s a good comic.

Family Man by Dylan Meconis: Another historical comic, this one is more fictional with some supernatural elements. It follows a formerly Jewish man as he lectures at a strange little college in Germany.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell: A fantastic steampunk/fantasy webcomic about a mysterious school, robots and mythical creatures. This one is a personal favorite.

Rice Boy by Evan Dahm: One of my favorite parts of any kind of fiction is world building and this webcomic is filled with a fantastic mystical world! Start with the titular Rice Boy and then continue on to Order of Tales, the short stories and Vattu, the next installment in this fantasy adventure.

The Phoenix Requiem by Sarah Ellerton: I love the gorgeous art of this webcomic, but it’s also a great tale about supernatural beings, old beliefs and what one does for love.

I hope you all like this list of suggestions. If you have webcomic recommendations of your own, please let me know in the COMMENTS. (E-mails are fine, but don’t you want everyone ELSE to see your suggestions too?)

9 Comments

Filed under comics, webcomics

Causing the Death of an Industry

A few days ago, Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler) creator Yana Toboso posted a statement on her blog saying if people continued to watch anime illegally, “we creators and voice actors will not eat; this is no joke, we will starve and die. This is not ‘lol.'”  Update: Someone posted a great translation of her full blog post here.

When this bit of news broke on Anime News Network, many people on the ANN forums (not surprisingly) decried the author and declared they would no longer read her works in any capacity, or at least not buy any of her works or merchandise. One poster said, “Sorry, but after I watch it online and like it I may go and buy it depending on price and language. Sorry if you don’t get to eat right away, but i promise you will get your money in the end”

What a nice promise, right? But what if fans don’t carry out those promises? It’s happened before millions of times. I’ve even done it with some of my favorite series, just stopped buying them because I decided to focus on reading other series. It happens. But what happens when the alternative is not buying at all? When instead all your money goes to other things so you can’t buy anything to entertain you? I’m sure in this economy, a lot of fans will take entertainment that’s free so they can pay for their rent, something which Toboso might be able to relate to.

But does that make it right? Doesn’t Toboso have the right to eat? What about her editors? What about the people who print the  magazines and the books she makes? They work so hard to bring the manga to the fans, don’t they deserve the money to be made off of Black Butler‘s success? And that’s just the people in Japan, what about the people in other countries who work to bring the series (and others) to fans in a language they can understand?

What happens when fans can no longer justify having manga publishers in the US? (Don’t be overly-optimistic here, we all know that many manga companies stand on shaky ground at the moment and enough pushing in the wrong direction could send them underground.) What will happen when anime and manga goes back to the same obscurity in the US it had before 1997?

The people who work in the industry outside of Japan will lose their jobs. The people who run the myriad of anime conventions will likely lose their jobs as well. Sure, they can go and get jobs at other companies, in other industries, but will that pay their bills? Who knows?

And if the same happens in Japan, will Toboso really starve on the streets? Probably not, but she certainly won’t be creating manga. She’ll be burnt out and will start looking for another career where her work is appreciated. What good is it to have fans when they won’t help you sustain yourself?

Here’s what fans really need to think about, the worst case scenario: the point where enough fans have made enough justifications to not buy anime and manga that we start ruining the industry  in Japan.

First, the publishers will start downsizing. You’ll see fewer magazines being published (this is already happening, actually) which will mean fewer pages and less manga, less anime being created. It won’t be anything you care about, at first. It’ll keep going until the only magazines that are left are the ones publishing Naruto, Bleach, Vampire Knight, only those super-popular manga that do ridiculously well no matter what. And maybe some little kids’ stuff will be left over. Mostly because little kids understand that stealing has bad consequences for them.

By then thousands of people will have been laid off. Mangaka everywhere will be out of work as will their editors, the printers, the animators. On the other hand, Comiket will probably quadruple in size and places like Mandarake will see untold amount of success as they will be replacing their merchandising shelves with self-published doujinshi. In the U.S., Viz will be the only English-language manga-concentrated publisher still afloat.

The end will come when all the scanlators run out of 1970’s shojo manga to post. Fans will realize that they’ve cannibalized themselves, but it will be too late. Everyone who once worked in the industry will have moved on. Their libraries of manga and anime sitting in the corners of their homes, waiting to be re-read or re-watched when these people want to remember the times when they had a really awesome job. They won’t want to come back and re-form the industry because they’ll be too hurt that no one else loved it enough. After all, why would they want to be used and betrayed like that again? Why would they want to sacrifice their respect like that again?

The time to start changing the way you think about how right scanlations are is now or else this worst-case scenario won’t be that far off. This is a bad economy, and while I’m sure you’re hurting, that means the creators and other industry folks are hurting too. Now would be the best time to tell them, “yes, I like your work and I will purchase what I’ve read online.” If you don’t like what you’ve read online, find something you’d like enough to buy.  Now is the time to put away your lame excuses and start protecting what you love so that creators, publishers and others don’t have to take the steps towards an anime and manga holocaust. You don’t want to have to ask yourself what the industry will kill off first.

If you’re interested in finding legitimate ways to purchase or consume manga for little to no cost, please check out this post.

29 Comments

Filed under manga, opinion

Webcomics Wednesdays: DAR! vol. 1-2 by Erika Moen

DAR! A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary chronicles the life of artist Erika Moen starting from 2003 when she was still a student at Pitzer College and follows her anecdotes from then until 2010. It starts out as the musings of a young lesbian woman swirled up in plenty of emotional and relationship drama and then transitions into more and more humorous material after Moen graduates, finds her partner/future husband and becomes a full-time artist. On top of the introspective and the funny, Erika also includes quite a lot about her sex life, making DAR! very personal and even more hilarious, but definitely not for the prudish or anyone who likes to waste time reading webcomics at work as this webcomic more than earns at NSFW rating.

Volume one of DAR! starts in 2006 because Moen feels this is the best starting off point as this is where started “sucking less.” Luckily, a three year recap is provided to give brand new readers some background on Moen. I think this wasn’t a bad move on her part, since the charm of DAR is in more of her later work than her early, not always very funny, existential comics.  In addition to what you can see on the web, Moen includes fun extras such as how to draw in her style (tip: Include a strap-on), how she draws her backgrounds, many of the Portland sites mentioned in the comic and a fun guide to everyone on her cover. Volume two consists of the remainder of the strip (Moen ended it in 2010), some original material and then jumps back to 2003 to include the entire comic in print format. There are more pages in volume 2, but there is less bonus material at the end. (If you count the original material, however, it does add up.) Moen remains funny right down to the last page where she proclaims “Plagiarists have small penises (even the women.)” in her copyright text. For $15 each, they’re more than the price of a normal volume of manga, but with the added benefit of knowing you’re directly supporting the artist and a good chunk of print-only extras.

Erika’s art is curvy and very fluid, something she attributes to her love of natural lines and tentacles in volume 2. It is also very simple, with lots of emphasis placed on the eyes and the mouths of her characters. Luckily this means her expressions are pretty spot-on. It doesn’t surprise me that Moen likes to keep it simple with her art (she also attests to liking to keep it simple with her haircut and fashion sense), but it is clear that her style is also well-practiced and pretty solid. It’s very fun and easy to read.

I believe that if there is one webcomic I am certain I will still love in ten years, it’s DAR! Nothing else I have read online has left me feeling more happy, inspired and open-minded after reading. Through DAR! Moen is honest about everything, from fart jokes, brain tumors to sexual identity, making even what should be a squirm-inducing TMI strip into something “aw”dorable or funny. I think it’s that frankness that makes me love this webcomic so much, I feel like I know Moen even though I only met her very briefly at Comic-Con when I bought these books from her. It makes me happy to see her come to terms with the fact that while she loves girls, her partner Matt is the person she wants to be with forever and that it makes her able to overcome the naysayers. I feel truly informed by her silly mini-lectures on vibrators and why breasts are more attractive in the summer. DAR! is like Erika’s love-letter to her goofy, sexually-confident self and I love every second of it.

I wish I could continue on with my own little love letter to DAR!, but I feel like it would be redundant to explain in excruciating detail how it makes me laugh and feel more confident as a woman after reading. Instead, you should read DAR! for yourself (although if you read the online version, you’ll have to wade through her early comics a bit) and laugh at her everyday antics.

You can buy the print volumes of DAR! A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary here alongside her fantastic original art collages, original strips and prints.

5 Comments

Filed under comics, reviews

Hetalia: You Should Read This Manga Even If You Don’t Want To

I’ve been dying to get this post out for a little while now. I was hoping to do it sometime this month as the print version of Hetalia Axis Powers isn’t out until late September, but since TOKYOPOP has announced that the digital version is already available, I’m going to go for it.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to lie to anyone, I worked on this manga as a script editor. In case you don’t already know, I work as an independent contractor (read: freelance editor) for TOKYOPOP. The fact that I’m breaking my own personal ethical standards to write this post? That’s how much I want you to read Hetalia Axis Powers. (The OFFICIAL versions, please.)

So you’re kind of skeptical about picking up Hetalia Axis Powers. I understand. There’s a lot of screaming fangirls, you hear a lot about pairings between the different (male) characters, it doesn’t seem like your cup of tea. Here’s why you should read it anyway.

1. This manga is funny even if your least favorite subject was history: It really is. It’s all about humor, whether that be humor about the historical behavior of the countries (i.e. wars, alliances, random incidences), humor about the stereotypical behaviors of the country and humor about the interactions between countries. That’s why the countries are drawn so cutely. YOU CAN’T HELP BUT LAUGH WHEN THEY LOOK SO SILLY AND CUTE!! (Ahem. You see why the fangirls act the way they do?)

2. It’s not a boys love manga, I promise: I can understand why people don’t want to read BL or yaoi. It’s not for everyone. But this manga is NOT about little gay countries. There are less instances of the characters “acting gay” to each other than fingers on your left hand and there are even boob jokes. Everything else is implied. Sure, you can look at the manga that way, but if you don’t HAVE to. (If you want to, by all means.)

3. It’s really not that offensive: If you’re adamant about getting hurt by the stereotypes perpetuated in Hetalia, fine. There are a million bad traits that Himaruya could have touched upon with any country in his manga, but he generally avoids going into dark territory. Hetalia is a yonkoma (gag strip) manga with light-hearted humor, which is pretty typical for most yonkoma manga. Having worked on the first two volumes already, I can only think of one really dark moment in the manga and it has NOTHING to do with stereotypes. Actually, I think America gets the worst jabs out of all the countries in the book for being weirdos. (My opinion is that Americans kinda deserve it. This country can be totally backwards sometimes.)

4. You’ll learn stuff you’ve never known before: Hetalia isn’t going to help you pass your history classes, it’s more like a Wikipedia page than a historical tome, but it’s still pretty fun. Let me tell you: fact checking this manga was super fun. I love history left, right and sideways, but I’m not a super-serious historical scholar. Still, Himaruya’s notes throughout the manga help clarify the strips as well as give you an excuse to go explore the history behind Sealand (and many other things). Many hours will be spent with multiple tabs of Wikipedia open and you will find yourself enjoying it. (Unless you are the type that is so turned off by learning anything new, you just can’t bring yourself to find out what the hell Sealand is.)

5. It really is funny, you guys, just try it: I understand why people don’t want to get into over-hyped series. I understand that Hetalia may not be your type of humor or your type of manga in the end. But it’s still worth a shot, even if you only flip through a friend’s copy or check one out from the library. Don’t pass something off you haven’t even read, especially something that’s really popular because it certainly has to be popular for one good reason or another. You don’t have to be a fangirl if that crowd turns you off, that’s fine. Just take the time to try it out. I promise that a lot of you will be happily surprised. (Cute and funny, it’s like the most powerful combo ever.)

I know I would love to hear your feedback on Hetalia and so would TOKYOPOP. Let me know, let TOKYOPOP know on their facebook page, twitter or anywhere else you can get a hold of them. Have you read it yet? Do you like it? Why do you like or dislike it? I want to hear it all!

33 Comments

Filed under manga, opinion

Manga Factory Starts a New Tour Division–Why?

Last week fledgling manga publisher Manga Factory announced that they were offering a 6-day tour to Japan called the “Escape to Tokyo” tour that begins next month.

All I have to say is: “Dear Manga Factory, why would you do this to yourselves?”

Let me explain. My mother’s owned her own travel agency for decades and regularly does group trips that I accompany her on. Group trips are small nightmares. First there’s the planning aspect of things: what do you do, where do you go kind of stuff. It seems like Manga Factory has that part down, so good for them. Then there’s the getting people to fill up your space (which you have hopefully gotten from the hotels and airline way ahead of time), which takes lots of time. Many, many months, in fact, because it takes time for payments to process and to get various visas, etc. This “Escape to Tokyo” tour is leaving in a month. Eeeeeeep.Not only that, but if you don’t fill your space by certain dates, the hotels and airlines can take them away from you. Last minute seats are usually much more expensive too.

Let’s add in the facts that a) we’re in an awful economy and b) otaku usually don’t have a lot of money. Just how is this tour division going to get it’s legs off the ground? Just how is their parent company going to get it’s legs off the ground if this tour doesn’t go as well as they’ve planned?

I don’t really want to be too pessimistic here. There may be legitimate reasons for Manga Factory to hold this tour. Perhaps a large number of their staff are going to Japan for business and/or pleasure and they thought they’d do a little side business while they were there. Could drum them up some money. They may have started this idea while Aurora was still going and wanted to continue it at their new company. OK, but that’s mere speculation on my part and they could be totally playing this by ear.

They also have pretty competitive prices with their biggest rival, Digital Manga Publishing‘s Pop Japan Travel (who is also running a tour around the Tokyo Game Show.) While Pop Japan Travel’s tour is cheaper and more customizable, Manga Factory’s tour is slightly longer and offers a lot of things that Pop Japan Travel’s tour doesn’t such as butler cafes, drag queen shows and an excursion to Cosplay Festa. Actually, if I had the choice I’d go for Manga Factory’s tour, just because I’ve been to Japan before and seen most of the Tokyo sights I want to see. However, if I was going for my first time, I’d certainly want to go see more of the traditional sights that Pop Japan offers instead of focusing solely on otaku-related stuff. Manga Factory doesn’t take you anywhere interesting in that sense, until you have a free day on day 7. Every preceding day is otaku sights, otaku sights and host clubs. It’s actually a pretty rigorous tour in that sense. If this were a group run by my mother, there would be free time at the beginning of the trip to get over the nasty jet lag.

Still, this tour could be successful for Manga Factory (I’m hoping it is,) except for one issue: THERE’S ONLY ONE MONTH UNTIL THE TOUR!!!

I don’t know how many spots they have to fill, but boy am I hoping it’s a really really small number… Taking a trip overseas is expensive and even people wealthier than your average American otaku need time to think about making such a big decision. Next time, please give everyone much more than a month to sign up for your tour.

Best of luck, Manga Factory. I really want your tour to succeed and even if it doesn’t, I want you to succeed as a publisher.  I’m just a blogger and a freelancer who happens to be familiar with the travel industry.

P.S. I really hope you’re not using JTB for your Ghibli museum extension because… they aren’t the greatest way to take your precious clients there. I had a fairly bad experience when I went with them and then I found out I could just buy the tickets at Lawson instead. (Seriously, they carted us around Tokyo for an hour before they took us to a train station where we waited for another hour to meet our tour guide who did absolutely nothing except take us there. Don’t use JTB for otaku stuff.)

4 Comments

Filed under opinion