Monthly Archives: October 2010

Get Your Creep On

I’ll be honest with you, I rarely find manga scary. What I find scary is something that surprises me, a person suddenly coming up from behind, a real physical shock to the system. Since I have a heart condition where my heart rate can affect my health greatly, it’s no surprise that I don’t let myself get too startled at pictures immobile on a page.
So I find, when it comes to horror manga, I’m more grossed out than anything else, if the mangaka is doing their job right. After all, part of the scariness of horror genre is upping the squick factor by featuring things you’d never want to see, let alone touch or have happen to you. In that sense, horror manga is spot on when it comes to grossing readers out, since the level of revulsion is only limited to how much detail a mangaka can fit on the page.

Even then, there’s only one manga I’ve been grossed out by a deep and tramuatizing level and that’s Imomushi (The Caterpiller) written by Edogawa Rampo and drawn by Suehiro Maruo and serialized in Comic Beam. Here’s a description of the story from Same Hat:

The Caterpillar is a haunting psychosexual tale of Lt. Sunaga, a disfigured and limbless veteran of WWI who returns home to his young and beautiful wife. Sunaga initially is given a hero’s welcome, but is quickly forgotten and shunned because of his injuries. Unable to speak or care for himself, he is completely at the mercy of his wife as she grows to loathe and toy with him.

Let me tell you, it’s worse than any tentacle rape/underage hentai you could think of and Maruo’s art takes it to the next level. It’s NSFW and chock full of disgusting details. I’m pretty sure the editors at TOKYOPOP first handed it to me when I was intern as a litmus test to see what I could handle in terms of obscene material. (A pretty common “work hazard” of the industry.) If it ever gets translated and published in English,you can be sure I will be staying far far away from it. Rampo is famous for works of a similar nature to Imomushi and Maruo is known for illustrating Rampo’s works (and others) in gross detail.

That being said, I am a little curious about The Strange Tale of Panorama Island coming out from Top Shelf soon because it seems to be a bit more mystery than a total gross out. But I may need to ensure that I don’t get nauseous from reading it before I buy… I guess that means both creators are doing their job right!

In the mean time, I’m going to read some sparkly shoujo manga to get my mind off Imomushi! Happy Halloween!

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Digital Manga Publishing Opens Digital Manga Guild

Earlier this evening, I got promotional e-mail from Digital Manga Publishing that advertised a new concept called the Digital Manga Guild, a site that uses crowd-sourcing to bring un-translated manga to readers. Not only that, but participants in the program are required to apply before they can work on manga and get paid for sales of any work that they do. Here’s an excerpt from the site:

Welcome to the Digital Manga Guild presented by Digital Manga, Inc. — an online open platform where dedicated manga fans can gather to work, talk, and to also be part of a manga revolution. Digital Manga is looking for a few good people to help build an online community of manga localizers to assist in bringing out thousands of untranslated titles to fans everywhere.

With the changing tide of the economy and the high cost and slow pace of producing print editions of your favorite manga, Digital Manga, Inc. has moved forward into this new digital venture to localize and produce manga online! Digital Manga has made agreements with six major Japanese publishers to provide content to our online platform, planned for a 2011 launch. Hundreds of untranslated titles will need to be adapted to the rest of the speaking world. That is where you, the fans step in.

We are in search of groups and individuals to help us with the process, NOW! This entails the need for translators to translate manga from Japanese to English, as well as other languages; editors/rewriters to clean up the translations for a smooth read; and letterers to retouch and typeset text. Once a title is completed, it will be digitally distributed through our platform for purchase. With your help in this process, we can supply more manga faster, to feed everyone’s manga addiction!

Registered groups or individuals chosen to work on projects will be assigned some of their favorite, unreleased titles. By becoming a member, you will be offering services to Digital Manga, Inc, and will be eligible to join our revenue share program. Members who work on specific titles will receive a revenue percentage from all future sales of that book. This means you get to share in our profits. However, no party — Digital Manga, Inc., the Japanese publishers, or you (the localizers) — will get paid until a sales transaction is made. That means, we are all in this together!

Join today to become one of the pioneers in revolutionizing the way we make manga. Pre-registration is open, and Digital Manga, Inc. will contact members to provide further details.

Woah, woah, woah! I have to admit I have SO MANY QUESTIONS right now. For one, will anyone be allowed to join? I sent in an application for an editorial/rewrite position, so it’s up to DMP who gets to work on manga and get paid. How much people get paid is another question I have, as well as how much are these manga going to cost? Is this that new Crunchyroll manga platform thingy we’ve been hearing about? How is DMP getting the licenses to distribute these manga? Who chooses what manga gets worked on? Will fans be able to request titles? Is this a way for scanlators to go legit, and, if so, are they still allowed to do scanlations on the side?

You can sign up as an editor/rewriter, translator (for many different languages, so if you know Chinese or Spanish or some other language, put that down!) or a letterer/touch-up artist, either as an individual or a group. I’ve already signed up myself, so if my application is approved (how long does that take, I wonder? I should update the personal site I gave as a reference to my work this weekend!) I will do my best to share any details I can give in the future.

What do you think, readers? This clearly has the potential to be a big development for the manga industry digital presence and I am super-excited to see what comes of it.

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Life of A (Rookie) Editor: The Privilege of Being Paid

A few days ago someone commented on my Ten REALLY GOOD Ways and Not Steal Manga post with a lot of strong opinions about the suggestions I posted. I won’t go into detail about everything this person said, but at the end they made a comment that said scanlations are of better quality because scanlators post the manga out of the goodness of their hearts and professional manga publishing people are only after the money.

Um, what?

But instead of getting angry at this commentator (because that comment really hurt my feelings, to be truthful), I want to discuss how much of a privilege it is to be able to get paid for doing something I love so much.

Why is it a privilege? Well, for one, it’s not my company so I am grateful that I was asked to be a freelancer for TOKYOPOP. There are so many other interns who’ve wanted jobs just as badly, but I’m one of only two people that they’ve hired out of intern positions in recent times. Yeah, that’s something to be a little proud about! But I could lose the work I get from them if I don’t work hard to make every manga I work on as perfect as possible. So I work hard. For pennies.

That’s right, for pennies. Now, I’m not blaming TOKYOPOP here. I *wish* I could get paid more, but they’re also not in the best place financially and I am a rookie editor at best, so the pay is what it is. I take it because I’d rather do this than chase down jobs  at Starbucks or McDonald’s. But then I would be working at McDonalds and how the hell do you think that would make a recent college graduate feel even if they were making twice as much money a month than at a degree-related job? Not good. What the hell did 4+ years of tuition just  get wasted on? So I feel lucky to be working actually related to my degree straight out of college.

But at the same time, I am pretty stressed about money. If I had a few more clients, I’d be considerably less stressed about money. Am I actively pursuing new clients so that I may make more money? Yes, but I am being very stupid about it. How so? I’m only pursuing other manga publishers. Because I really want to work on nothing but manga. I have been so spoiled from working with TOKYOPOP and iSeeToon. When I meet other people and they ask what I do, I get the most awesome responses when I tell them. All the manga that I buy are now tax-deductible. Excuse my language, but how fucking awesome is that to me? So fucking awesome.

You see, I’ve only been an editor (internships included) for a little over a year, but I’ve been a manga fan for about 10 years now. When I learned I could get a job working in manga, my reaction wasn’t really a “woohoo, I get to make money off of manga” so much as a “woohoo, I can do something I really love for the rest of my life.” The only part about getting paid that really helped was to convince my skeptical mother that my hobby had become legitimate.

Now, I don’t know the life stories of everyone in the manga industry, but I can tell you that most people I know don’t do it because they hate manga and they only want the moola involved. As far as I know (and I’ve heard this from so many different people), you just do not get into this industry because the pay is good. In fact, I hear people saying the pay is shitty (and/or the fans make it a shitty job sometimes) all the time. I’ve never once heard someone say the pay is good, so why are all these people in the industry to begin with? Surely they have enough skills to find similar, better paying jobs elsewhere. But you don’t see them actively talking about how they’re trying to find something better to do with their lives than manga publishing. Why? Well, probably because they’ve got some deep, affectionate feelings about manga too. If they were any other way, why have I drooled over manga with so many different people in the industry?  I really fangirled (or boyed) with a lot of these people at some point or another. Why would you do that if you weren’t actively interested in the medium? I cannot come to any other conclusion than these people are passionate about manga.

If we industry people were really so obsessed with money, I think all of us would try a lot harder to find other jobs and leave all the hard work to the scanlators. Getting paid to do our jobs is really just the icing on the cake.

For everyone who isn’t convinced by this because manga prices are so damn high these days, let me explain why this is. Manga in Japan is cheap because they have a more open culture about reading comic books. Their market can afford to print 3 million plus copies of One Piece because there are 3 million plus people in Japan who will buy those copies of One Piece. There are not 3 million plus people in the US who will do the same, so if you want manga at Japanese prices, you have to work hard either at finding deals or encouraging more and more people read manga so that manga publishers here can make prices lower and still pay their employees. So if your manga is $12.99 or higher that’s because the publisher knows that you and maybe 2,000 other people are going to buy it and those extra copies no one bought are going to sit around in their warehouse forever. If your manga is $8.99 it’s because the publisher knows that way more than 2,000 people are going to buy it so there are going to be fewer unsold copies that cost them a lot of money. I hope that makes sense.

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Webcomics Wednesday: Love, Jews and Los Angeles

Hey everyone! Thank you for being patient for me during my recovery from surgery. Everything went well and I’ve recovered pretty fast. Except for beginning to get some bouts of nausea (it has something to do with how I cannot digest fats as well anymore), I’m doing quite well.  Also, thank you to Kris and Angel who contributed two excellent blog posts during my absence.

A few posts ago, I told you that I would probably pick up a few new webcomics to talk about from APE and I did! I met the creator I’m about to introduce to you there while my boyfriend was chatting with a friend at the booth next door.

Let me show you what first caught my eye…

Why, hello there! What is this? I am Jewish too, so this might be interesting…

Turns out, Michael Jonathan is Jewish is about the author’s trip to Israel on a birthright trip. (If you are a Jewish kid of a certain age, you can get a free trip to Israel if you’ve never been before. The point is to teach you about Israel, your heritage, party with other kids, etc.)  Michael Jonathan also has a webcomic, Eros Inc., about a Jewish girl who becomes the cupid (read: matchmaker) of a Los Angeles neighborhood. I’m going to talk about both in this post.

Eros Inc. predates Michael Jonathan is Jewish, so we’ll start there. At first, I was a little turned off  by the early artwork for the webcomic. It’s not very pretty to look at and I found it a little hard to read. Having read Michael Jonathan is Jewish, however, I knew that the art had improved with age and practice. Story-wise, it’s pretty charming. Mot Fleischman becomes the new cupid of Silverlake after her predecessor gropes her before bursting into a million hearts. That’s the kind of special comic it is.

After gaining the power to point people in the right direction (cupid-ing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to strike a life-long match), Mot also gains a whimsical, but rather annoying manager, a ton of cats, a demanding boyfriend and a mustachioed Czech colleague. There are lots of zany adventures in match-making, personal romance and general WTF-ery. Turns out when you’re a cupid, sassy little cherubim deliver your assignments in cheesy hallmark cards and you get paid in candy hearts which you can trade for prizes at the local kiddie arcade.

What I like so much about Eros Inc. is the little human dramas and the kind of awful puns of the aforementioned manager, but also the acknowledgment that Mot is Jewish (and therefore does occasional Jewish things) and all the references to random spots in LA like the supermarket that is walking distance from my apartment. It all just comes together for me. (Although I understand if you don’t get the LA references.) Since Michael Jonathan lives in Silverlake and is Jewish himself, it kind of is like writing what you know, but it’s so charming I don’t care.

On the other hand, Michael Jonathan is Jewish hasn’t quite hit it’s stride for me yet. Unlike other travelogue comics I’ve read like Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle, there’s nothing automatically interesting about the narrative, like a sarcastic attitude towards oppressive politics or truly remarkable encounters. Michael Jonathan does struggle with a disconnection from being religious, but his attention is largely focused on giving us a rundown of everything he does on the trip. I cannot really fault him for this approach because a short birthright trip obviously doesn’t have as much material to choose from as a year spent living in a foreign country, but I’m still waiting for the sweet spot to come around. Still, there are other aspects that are of interest, like learning about different aspects of Judaism in layman’s terms and the interesting Israeli artists the creative group of travelers meets along the way.

Either way, I’m planning to continue reading both Eros Inc. and Micheal Jonathan is Jewish because I really enjoyed them both and he put up with my ramblings about being Jewish for a few minutes at APE. If nothing else, check out Michael Jonathan’s store filled with adorable buttons, greeting cards and mini-comics.

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Guest Post: A Mexican Otaku

For this post, I was lucky enough to have a blogger from abroad volunteer! Angel Garcia is an IT guy who was born and raised in Mexico. After somehow learning English by watching American cartoons and a life-long diet of Anime and Videogames, he has somehow managed to stay alive in one of the world’s deadliest cities. He’s often found on his website or on twitter. He likes masks and ridiculous poses. (ノゝ∀・)~キラ☆ KIRABOSHI!

I was invited to participate in the artist’s alley of a local anime con earlier this year. I had only participated in such events as part of a group or collective, never on my own, so I thought it’d be at least an interesting experience. The con looked like it could be something distinctive, at least locally: It was partly sponsored by a university, and the organizers had enough vision to think ahead of time and plan things accordingly. All in all, I had expectations.

Come the day of the event, I prepared my drawing stuff, my prints and my best disposition, to meet with the other artists and the con-goers. Unsurprisingly, the other artists were all comic-making colleagues, the same artists that go to every comics-and-anime-related event in the area. We set up our tables, and were roaring to go!

All that energy had dissipated by the middle of the afternoon. The biggest local comic group, “656 Comics”, was pretty much getting ready to jump ship and be absent the second day of the event, while my table neighbors and I decided to brave the second day with optimistic, yet cautious disposition.

Battle report: 5 prints sold, three of them to one of my fellow artists, who refused to take any of them as a gift, and another one to an old friend. I can’t even remember who bought the fifth one. Add a couple of drawings, and a small number of sketch cards. The other artists had a similar experience.

Of course I was half-expecting this. I’ve been to every con in this city, sometimes as a regular attendant, sometimes as an organizer, sometimes as part of a collective. You could say I’ve seen it all, and it’s as bleak and depressing as it is hopeful.

I probably should mention I live in Mexico.

And I think it’s important to say that these are the conventions of Ciudad Juarez, the world’s deadliest city.

It’s also a city with a thriving community of otaku full of energy, imagination and the desire to belong.

I was there when this movement began, in this city. I saw it take its first steps, and then try to run, hampered only by the reality of our country.

In order to understand how the Mexican otaku differs from, say, an U.S.A. otaku or a Canadian otaku, we’re going to need just a little a bit of history.

I belong to one of the first generations of Mexican otaku. Our first exposure was to anime was the many series aired nationwide by the television networks during the late 70’s and the 80’s: Gatchaman, Mazinger Z, Robotech, Hello! Sandy Bell, Heidi and Nobody’s Boy Remi, among others.

By the 90’s, the anime boom was in full swing, with many shows becoming huge hits: Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon were the biggest. The first actual Mexican otaku emerged during the first half of the decade, but the cultural impact wouldn’t be felt until the latter part of the decade and well into the 2000’s, when popularization of manga, conventions, cosplay and fanzines.

Since its inception, the Mexican otaku culture has been a reflection of Mexican culture itself, highlighting many of the social, economic and cultural problems that the people of Mexico have been carrying for hundreds of years.

1. Isolation and Centralization

Ever since colonial times, all the power in Mexico has been concentrated around Mexico City. This hasn’t changed in more than 400 years of history, and affects all aspects of life. The first Mexican otaku appeared in the early 90’s in Mexico City; the second half of the decade saw the convention explosion, first aimed at comic fans but quickly overtaken by the emerging otaku.

It took a couple of years before otaku culture started spreading throughout the country with enough strength, both in number an impact. Here in Juarez, the otaku started gaining an identity only after 2001, despite being so close to the United States and having relatively easy access to everything sold over there, from comics and manga to anime DVD’s.

Even though we’re all otaku and live in Mexico, we do not share a singular identity. Unlike the conventions I’ve been to in the U.S., where you can find people who have traveled from all over the country just to be in a particular place and time, in Mexico it’s quite rare to find someone from out of town in any convention, even the big ones in Mexico City. Conventions are almost invariably a very local phenomenon, isolated from other conventions throughout the country; as events in which culture is shared and spread, they’re the perfect example of how isolated Mexican otaku culture is.

2. The Economy and the Market

I remember an article I read some months ago that mentioned some of the contradicting faces of Mexico. In my opinion, one of the most incredible was the fact that the richest man in the world is a Mexican, Carlos Slim, despite the country having a poverty rate, as defined by the World Bank guidelines, of more than 50%.

Now, what happens when more than 50% of the target market does not have the resources to become good and honest customers?

Welcome to the Market of anime and manga in Mexico.

It’s a world of counterfeit, imitations and rampant piracy, propagated by comics and anime conventions. Most of these events do not prohibit the sale of pirated goods, which gives the low-income otaku a chance to indulge their palate without going broke.

What about the other hypothetical 50%? The one with hypothetically more adequate income? Well, it’s not like they have much of a choice, either. Few companies can absorb licensing costs, and bringing a single series is a huge risk, particularly when your competition sells the same product, albeit using a fansub, for less than a quarter of the price. The latest release that one of the few licensing companies has made is Mazinger Z on DVD. And before that? Saint Seiya. And Dragon Ball. And… That’s about it.

What about the internet? Does it provide some legal means of watching anime? Only Crunchyroll, and even then, not all of its series are available in Mexico. Even fansubs don’t have as much impact as convention piracy: The internet in Mexico wasn’t fast or widespread enough to become the number one channel for anime distribution until past the second half of the 2000’s, and by that time the only couple of licensors had pretty much given up in trying to expand the market.

Even the manga industry is dwindling. Only two publishers worked on manga, and one of them has been missing in action for years. The other one, Editorial Vid, barely licenses anything new these days, releasing one or two titles per month. They even have their own stores, called Mundo Vid, in which they sell their titles. They’ve had a permanent 50% sale on all manga for the last few years, to boot.

3. Conservatism vs Otaku

Mexican society is mostly Catholic. It’s, in many ways, very conservative and traditional. There are many Catholic priests who appear on the news when they publicly condemn things like the recently-passed laws that allow same-sex marriages and adoptions by same-sex couples. It is no wonder, then, that the words of priests with such traditional beliefs do influence a good portion of the population.

It doesn’t take much to imagine what happened when series like Dragon Ball Z or Pokémon became incredibly popular: The Mexican Catholic Church demonized the hell out of them, and everything that came out of Japan.

Even though these titles are no longer as popular as they were ten years ago, the stigma remains. Many of the younger Juarez otaku I’ve talked to have stories of problems with their parents, and how they disapprove of their hobbies due to the traditional Catholic priest’s discourse. This is particularly prominent in low-income families, which also tend to be more conservative.

4. Living Dangerously: The Juarez Otaku.

Nevertheless, otaku culture has thrived in my hometown, Juarez. The clubs have multiplied; there are conventions and public events every month; cosplayers are numerous, and their costumes are increasing in quality. The attendance and involvement have increased throughout the years, and show no signs of stopping.

Despite, you know, being a place where at least 8 people are murdered per day, on average. And that’s without considering all the rampant kidnapping, theft and violence that pervades our lives and minds. We live in fear, paranoia and uncertainty. In more than two years, this situation has done nothing but escalate.

And yet, the Juarez otaku still try to attend the anime conventions and events. Despite the lack of safety, the opposing parents and the lack of a structured industry, the otaku in Juarez and Mexico thrive. The internet helps: blogs, message boards, social networks, all help create a sense of community, despite all the things that bring us apart. But even then, all that exchange is limited to the virtual world: We’re still separated from each other, and from the world. Who knows how this otaku generation, in both its isolation and innovation, will affect the future of a disordered country’s society and culture?

Photos are courtesy of Leonardo Hernandez, Marisol Pastrana and Alma Roman and are being used with their permission.

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Guest Post: How Strong is That Heroine in Your Manga?

I asked for help with blog posts while I am recovering from surgery and a few people were nice enough to oblige! First up is Kristin Bomba,  a writer and the head editor for ComicAttack.net. She writes a column called Bento Bako Weekly/Lite/Bonus on that updates Monday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively. She also has a collection of anime reviews at girlg33k.blogspot.com or you can follow her on Twitter under @girlg33k_Kris. Take it away, Kris!

While the lovely Daniella is recovering, I offered to step in with a guest post. In an effort to generate intelligent discussion, I roamed around my manga shelves and tried to find a theme to focus on. I decided to try my hand at a little semi-feminism. I had considered talking about Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku The Inner Chambers, but I really want to save that for a MMF (hint, hint). So rather than focus on a single title, I’d like to look at several titles, and a few anime (just to expand the pool I’m drawing from), and talk about the roles of women, particularly strong female characters. My goal is to point several of these out, and try to compare them to other female characters that tend to sit around and wait for the men to do everything for them. Well, let’s see how it goes.

I think we’ll start with a couple of my favorite female heroines. First we’ll look at a very unconventional heroine – Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club (Bisco Hatori). Haruhi is the exact opposite of the traditional heroine and the series frequently points this out both within the story and as in 4th-wall remarks. She’s oblivious to male attentions, indifferent to the differences between males and females, independent, boyish, apathetic and incapable of asking for aid. Haruhi is exceptionally perceptive to the feelings of others, which allows her to save the male characters from the darkest sides of their emotions. It is with Haruhi’s astute (and often unfortunately blunt) observations that the boys around her change and grow. The twins, Hikaru and Kaoru, especially, who begin the series withdrawn and with a self-made barrier between them and everyone else. Haruhi breaks this down almost single handedly. Without a mother, Haruhi took on many responsibilities growing up, always trying to do everything alone so as not to worry her father. Even when she needs help, she doesn’t know how to ask. This frustrates the guys, who try to teach this fiercely independent young lady that even someone as capable as her needs a little help sometimes. She’s a wonder woman, but not Wonder Woman.

Another favorite female character of mine is Juliet from Gonzo’s Romeo x Juliet (Reiko Yoshida). To be honest, Romeo is a bit of a pansy in this version, though he does grow a pair later on. It’s Juliet who steals the show as the Red Whirlwind, a vigilante who fights for the rights of the citizens of Neo Verona, rather like Robin Hood. The Capulet family was wiped out by Romeo’s father, leaving only Juliet behind. She must carry the fate of her family and the hopes of those who have protected her all these years on her young shoulders. She sets aside her heart’s desires to lead an uprising against the tyrannical Montague, and ends up making the ultimate sacrifice to save all of Neo Verona. All of this mostly on her own, with Romeo mostly along for the ride, or acting under the strength of her influence.

Perhaps one of the strongest females I’ve seen is female warrior Balsa, from Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Nahoko Uehashi). Deadly with a spear, Balsa has vowed to save lives to atone for those that were lost in her past. She kicks all kinds of ass, and she’s fully clothed. It’s unfortunate that I have to mention that detail. I think characters like Revy from Black Lagoon and Motoko from Ghost in the Shell are amazing female characters, but their clothing choices aren’t exactly modest. It’s great that they’re comfortable with their sexuality, but you can be on equal footing with the men without baring your cleavage and shaking your butt cheeks, too. Really, why does one of the most powerful women in Japan have to waltz around in little more than a very revealing strapless swimsuit? And for that matter, why must she be such a loose woman? I always found it a little odd that a pure cybernetic person, who doesn’t even believe she has a soul anymore, is so willing to have so many sexual relationships. Then again, maybe that’s exactly why, because they don’t really mean much to her. Still, you can be sexy without wearing minimal clothing or sleeping around.

Other strong female characters:

Kotobuki, Tsubasa Those With Wings (Natsuki Takaya). Though she has to turn to thievery to survive, she works hard to be a good person and have a legitimate job. She’s independent, though she does often get overwhelmed by the chaos brought about by the main male character, Raimon (I actually think Takaya writes good females regularly; Tohru, despite her very mild demeanor, rescues pretty much the entire Sohma family all on her own in Fruits Basket).

Kyoko, Skip Beat! (Yoshiki Nakamura). Kyoko starts out living her life for a man, and then sets out to get revenge on said man, which is the driving force behind much of her ambition for a good while. But she eventually gets beyond that and starts doing things for herself, and becomes a strong young lady who is capable of amazing growth as a human being.

Tsukasa, Tokyo Crazy Paradise (Yoshiki Nakamura). They don’t get much better than this. Tsukasa is just as strong, and often stronger, than any of the males in the series. She’s strong, both physically and emotionally, and is capable of amazing feats in battle. She’s the personal bodyguard of the main male character, a yakuza leader, and continually saves his (and many others’) life.

Meryl and Milly, Trigun (Yasuhiro Nightow). Meryl and Milly are the top insurance agents at Bernardelli Insurance. They’re capable enough to continually be sent after the most dangerous man on the planet, Vash the Stampede. And they can hold their own decently well with him when pressed. Meryl is a whiz with her coat full of derringer pistols and Milly can knock almost anyone down with her concussion gun. Their cheerfulness often gives Vash hope for the future.

Kaoru, Rurouni Kenshin (Nobuhiro Watsuki). Kaoru runs her own dojo, and holds her own quite well alongside Kenshin in battle. While she’s not strong enough to help him take on his biggest adversaries, she’s fantastic as support, and is able to fight off and organize battles against enemy soldiers and minor “bosses.” She’s the master of the Kamiya Kasshin style of fighting, and takes great pride in the style and her students (few though they may be). Her immense capacity for understanding and compassion pulls Kenshin out of his dark past.

Youko, The Twelve Kingdoms (Fuyumi Ono). Once she stops whining about how much she hates her situation and how unfair it all is, she truly steps into her role as ruler of the kingdom of Kei and becomes a powerful force, taking back her kingdom from the conniving and corrupt politicians populating her kingdom. She journeys outside the palace to live among her people, and ends up getting involved in a revolution against a usurper to her throne.

Casca, Berserk (Kentarō Miura). The only female soldier in Griffith’s elite army, Casca leads her own troop, and is behind only Griffith and Guts in skill. Unfortunately, the fact that she is a female is driven home repeatedly in the series, as because she is a female, she can never be as strong as the strongest man. This is something that pops up in many titles, and while factually and scientifically true, it’s a little annoying that in fantasy, women can’t be as outrageously strong as the men (see: Guts). Berserk is also one of very few titles I’ve seen where the woman’s menstrual cycle has an effect on her skills. Usually it’s ignored entirely. It’s also worth noting that the worst weapon used against Casca is rape; rape begins her path with Griffith (who saves her), and later destroys her sanity.

Honorable mentions: Nadia (Nadia: Secret of Blue Water), Natsumi and Miyuki (You’re Under Arrest), Riza Hawkeye (Full Metal Alchemist), Faye (Cowboy Bebop), Chizuko (The Daughter of Twenty Faces), Kumiko “Yankumi” (Gokusen).

Ah, now that I’ve talked about all these cool women, I don’t really want to talk about the weak and lame ones. The ones who just sit around and let the men do everything. Like Misao in Black Bird, Suzuka in Captive Hearts, or almost any character in a Yuu Watase story. Here are some of the worst I’ve seen.

Aoi, Ai Yori Aoshi (Kou Fumizuki). The epitome of the perfect Japanese woman, Aoi’s greatest asset, which is commented on by multiple characters throughout the series, is her ability as a housekeeper. Yes, this woman cooks, cleans, shops, mothers everyone, is obedient, and the ultimate domestic. She has loved one man and will always love one man, and will do anything for him. She was born and raised to know and acquiesce to his desires. I found the series to be very sweet and charming, but it’s hard to ignore such a typical idealized female. Especially when you compare her to the other women in the series who are decidedly more outgoing and independent.

Belldandy, Oh My Goddess! (Kōsuke Fujishima). Oh, someone’s gonna hate me for this one. Everyone loves Belldandy, but she falls into the same tropes as Aoi. It’s hard to hate such charming characters, and I don’t hate them, but neither can I ignore their status as pure male fantasy/wish fulfillment.

Suzuka, Suzuka (Kouji Seo). Suzuka is actually a fairly strong character for a shōnen sports manga, but the fact that she gives up her dream that was the focus of the entire series, and in effect makes the guy she is with give up his dreams, just because she can’t keep her panties on, kills it for me completely. Though admittedly, I found her to be exceptionally annoying and didn’t like the series anyway.

So, what makes a strong female character? That they can stand toe-to-toe with the men? That they are the rescuer more often than the rescued? Does a skimpy outfit automatically lesson their presence, or does it have no effect? Is it more important to be physically strong or emotionally strong? And what about the weaker characters? The ones who sit around looking pretty, or cater to every whim of the male they’re partnered with. Which is the better role model? Is it a weakness to be enamored with a guy? Just about all the characters I mentioned above, in each category, are in love with someone. You can be independent and still want to be with someone. After all, it’s human to need others. But it crosses a line when a female’s entire existence is to simply please her male partner. When they’re created with little to no outside motivation beyond that. It’s certainly not right for a boy to believe that women exist simply to serve him. And we don’t always need a guy there to do everything for us; we’re not weak, we can stand on our own feet. We’re not all Sleeping Beauty, who can only live through the love of a man, or Rapunzel, who must be rescued from a tower. What stands out to you, dear readers, and defines the strength of your favorite manga or anime girl?

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A Weekend at Alternative Press Expo

Last week was NYCC/NYAF, but I wasn’t able to attend. Based on Twitter gossip, I’m sort of glad I didn’t! While it would have been awesome to be there and meet people, it seems like so many had complaints about the event and the poor integration of the anime portion of the event. Luckily, Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco fit my budget better, so the boyfriend and I made the trip up from L.A.

Unlike it’s sister convention Comic-Con International, APE is small and hyper-focused on allowing indie creators and small publishers show off what they got. Events pretty much consisted of one panel or workshop running at a time and were entirely about creators or focused on creating comics. I didn’t attend any except for the first day of Comics Collaboration Connection, which was like a speed-dating service for artists and writers. (More on that later.)

What struck me the most was the small size of the con compared to Comic Con International, as well as the absence of the unrelated fluff that SDCC is inundated with these days. It struck me as the type of event Comic Con International had been when it was first started, although no one was at APE to buy the latest superhero caper from Marvel or DC. Instead, most attendees were interested in schmoozing with their favorite indiecreators and buying what they had to offer. What I heard from past attendees, the dealer’s room was twice as big as it was last year, which I thought was impressive. There was certainly plenty of people packing the halls on both days, so I can understand why the decision to go bigger was made.

The Comics Collaboration Connection was a fun deal. I did it on impulse because I want to get back into writing comics, but my art skills never quite match my ideas. There were more writers than artists and, at first, the staffers fumbled a little with how they should restructure the event. Eventually, they figured it was best of the artists to sit and have writers wait in line to meet them. Writers could get in line and wait for their turn. There weren’t too many women in the writer’s line, but there were a sizable number of women amongst the artists. This was nice for someone like me whose influences are less super-hero-y and slapstick comedy than that of the male artists I met with. Everyone was quite frank with each other because everyone wanted to meet with as many people as possible, but I felt like the event was promising. Unfortunately, I noticed that on the second day of the con attendance for the event had dropped significantly for both artists and writers. (I didn’t participate that day.)

Because I wasn’t very interested in the panels, I can’t tell you how they went. I can say, however, that it was difficult to locate the panel room. A few other people I talked to didn’t know where panels were either. It wasn’t until I looked at a map after the con that I realized where panels were being held. I don’t know if that affected panel attendance, but the con staff could have made it more clear where panels were held on the floor.

Some fun people I met at the con were Sarah Beacon of I Think You’re Sauceome, Cari Corene of Toilet Genie, Jen B. who created an awesome minicomic about Alpacas, Michael Jonathan of Eros Inc., Spike of Templar, Arizona, Evan Dahm of Rice Boy and Ejen Chuang of Cosplay in America. That was only a fraction of the awesome purchases I made to keep me company while I’m recovering from surgery. (Eek, that’s happening in a little over 24 hours!)

APE is definitely a con for anyone who really loves indie comics in an unhealthy way. There’s plenty to feast upon and even if your favorite creators aren’t there, many other creators to check out, especially with the size increase. It left me wanting to get back into creating comics in order to join the ranks of exhibitors next year. Probably impossible, but the fact that the con stirred my creativity that much says something.

Unfortunately I walked away with zero pictures, but you’ll be seeing some of the awesome stuff I picked up on this blog for weeks to come, I’m sure.

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Filed under comics, webcomics