Review: Ayn Rand’s Anthem

tl;dr-don't waste your $$

EDIT: This review has now been slightly redacted and changed because my blogging peers tell me I took my criticism of New American Library, Charles Santino and Joe Staton too far. I hope anyone who read the previous version didn’t get terribly offended at my mentioning of money changing hands or speculation of how this graphic novel came to be, but I have commented on editorial style before, which was my justification for the original post. The rest of my opinions still stand.

Sometimes life brings you surprises. You hope that they are good surprises.

Then you open the package and realize that someone decided to make a comic-book version of Ayn Rand’s famous novella, Anthem, and your heart sinks a little.

A lot of people don’t like Anthem, but I’m not one of them. I think the book illustrates a good point about not forgetting individuality and ambition, especially in her post-technological apocalypse, communal world. Of course, Anthem was written during a time when Communism, and anything similar, was still widely feared. I liked it a lot better than Brave New World, which I read around the same time and felt totally uncomfortable with.

Anthem is about a man, Equality 7-2521, who doesn’t feel quite right in his communal society where he works as a Sweeper. One day, while out sweeping, he finds a tunnel filled with old technology, the existence of which was nearly wiped out in an ancient battle. Since then, the individual has been systematically cleansed from society and everyone does as they are told, down to when they have sex. Intrigued by science and equipped with a bright mind, Equality 7-2521 re-invents the light bulb, woos the pretty Liberty 5-3000, tries to re-introduce electricity to society to make life easier and becomes a total pariah, taking Liberty 5-3000 with him. The pair then finds an old house and re-builds an individual-driven society after discovering the word “I” and the existence of ego.

Back to the graphic novel adaptation, apparently done by Charles Santino and Joe Staton, both of whom I’ve never heard of. The press release included in the package tells me Joe Staton won an Eisner award at some point. Is that so? I certainly expected more from an Eisner winner because…

The first thing you’ll notice about this adaptation of Anthem is that the art on the cover looks awful and the interior art isn’t even inked, which might have made the style slightly more bearable. The art seems to be in that awful style of 70s and 80s cartooning that assumes everyone in the Middle Ages wore a tunic and boots. The men are manly and bodily thick, unless they are villainous or a wimpy side character thrown in for laughs, and the women are gorgeous, blonde and full-lipped. But despite all this, the art is really blockish and square-like, even when things should be more curvaceous. Everything just oozes of cheesy Saturday morning cartoon. (Did I mention this adaptation felt a bit scrubbed clean to me?)

On top of that, every page only has three panels each, meaning that the comic’s pacing feels more like a 4-koma manga that you quickly zip through instead of a deeply thoughtful narrative about a man’s fight against a society who oppresses him. I’ve never fervently wished for wide open spaces on the pages of a comic book in ages, but here I was wishing for something, ANYTHING, other than three rectangles a page. You think someone could have fit it in somewhere, it would have made for a great visual metaphor if Equality 7-2521 broke through a panel somewhere. (And then the panel structure completely changed afterward.)

My biggest complaint however, is that there’s no art to it at all, just characters doing stuff. If I were drawing this, I’d go all out and draw art deco motifs and Mucha-inspired characters when the narration turns away from action and goes into exposé. Does that happen? Nope, nope, nope. It’s not that Staton isn’t capable, I’ve taken a look at some of his other artwork for the purposes of this review, it’s just that someone (or someones) didn’t try very hard as they worked on this comic. It’s pretty obvious to me that Staton is definitely a culprit here.

But let’s not forget the story! This is where things get tricky. Anthem is almost completely narrated by Equality 7-2521 referring to himself in the royal we (because “I” doesn’t exist for him during most of the story). This could make for a very un-dynamic comic in the hands of someone unimaginative. Unfortunately, Charles Santino was definitely not feeling creative when he wrote the script for this book. Like I said, it’s just page after page of Equality 7-2521 doing stuff. There’s about 35-45% of the comic that is actually Equality doing things in tandem with the narrative where it makes sense. The other 55-65% is where Rand gets eloquent and Santino just keeps writing Equality doing super-boring stuff. So we wind up getting a lot of boxes of narration that sort of conflict with whatever is happening in the art and completely fail to fit the mood of the words and the art. Something tells me Santino just copy-pasted the important lines of the book and scribbled in some basic action in order to give Staton a minimal amount of direction.

And that’s just it, this work is minimal. Santino did the least amount of work necessary on the script and Staton did the same with the art. Is this because they weren’t passionate about the work? Probably, I am sad to say. Anthem does a lot of showing and a lot of telling, but somehow the two don’t ever seem to touch each other meaningfully and show readers what makes Anthem a good book. There is no love for the material in this adaptation. What a waste of the potential of a good book.

Don’t buy this graphic novel. If you’re interested in Ayn Rand, go buy the prose version of Anthem, because she is a good author despite the complete failure to re-capture her work here.

Where the heck is Steve Ditko when you need him?

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Hourly Comics Day

For some reason, I got it into my head on Tuesday to draw hourly comics for Hourly Comics Day, which is a day were you draw comics for each hour you are awake. (You’re supposed to do them within the hour, but eh.)

I don’t know what possessed me since it’s now been years since I drew regularly, but here ya go:

(Sorry for the craptastic scans. Not to mention the craptastic art and handwriting. Click on the thumbnails and zoom in to see them full-size.)

As you can see, my day was relatively unexciting absolutely fascinating, but I tried to make it funnier for you.

Here are so much better drawn hourly comics…

Sarah Becan

Yuko Ota

KT Shy

Magnolia Porter (See blog post below comic for links)

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Riyoko Ikeda Performs at Versailles

I don’t usually post stories like this, but it was too cool to pass up.

As you know, Riyoko Ikeda is the creator of The Rose of Versailles, a manga which is set in the court of Versailles pre-French Revolution and has to be one of the most revered and classic shoujo manga of all time. Ikeda has been at the French mega-comic-con, Angoulême, as a guest of honor these past few days. And apparently singing ditties penned by Queen Marie Antoinette herself, while in full Rococo garb, at the Palace of Versailles itself.

Here’s a excerpt from the Mainichi Daily News article:

Wearing a costume like a woman in the palace at the peak of its flourishing days, Ikeda entertained the audience of some 80 invited guests with her songs, including a piece written by Queen Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI and a key character in the comic series, at a theater inside the palace.

“I can’t describe enough in words how joyful I am to perform on this stage,” said Ikeda, who studied singing after entering a music college in her 40s.

“I thought I was not brave enough to sing Marie Antoinette’s song in French in front of a French audience, ” she added, drawing laughter from the crowd.

How much cooler can you get than that? My inner history and manga fangirls are dying to have seen this incredible spectacle!

Thanks to Helen McCarthy for tweeting about this super-awesome story.

UPDATE: Here’s a video of Ikeda performing. Pro-tip- if it’s not working in Firefox or another browser, try Internet Explorer.

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What Manga Do You Want The Most?

Manga licensing is a tricky business. There are companies that won’t work with other companies, titles that are too expensive to reasonably bring over the U.S., mangaka who are wary about having their work brought to an English-speaking audience and many other things to consider before licensing a title for the finicky U.S. market. It’s especially hard to judge demand when there are so many people reading scanlations. Is this title popular enough despite all those people who’ve already read it for free? Will fans devote their money to a manga regardless? It’s hard to judge a risky market like manga publishing sometimes. The best that can be done sometimes is to listen to their demands, but that might not always be the easiest thing to do because of all the restrictions mentioned above.

But what if we pretended to wipe the slate clean and have our own publishing companies for a moment? You’re given the opportunity to license any two manga titles that you wanted to, regardless of price, publisher politics or the relative lack of demand for the titles you pick. What would you license?

Rose of Versailles? Sailor Moon? Jungle Emperor Leo? What are you dying to publish the most?

I’ve tried to give the subject matter a lot of thought. It’s really hard to pick just two titles because there’s probably two dozen on my mental shortlist. Do I really want this one over this other one? I’m not sure, because I’d probably buy either in an instant.

But I’ve decided. I would want to bring over Osamu Tezuka’s Nana-iro Inko (Rainbow Parakeet), which I’ve mentioned wanting before, and Saint Oniisan (Saint Young Men) by Hikaru Nakamura.

Had I a chance to bring over a third title, I would have probably picked Moto Hagio’s A Cruel God Reigns, but I think the above two titles would have to be my first two picks. Nana-iro Inko because it sounds like a fun, under-estimated Tezuka title and Saint Oniisan because I read it (when I felt less guilty about scanlations) and loved it so much. (I would buy for myself in an instant and recommend it to all my friends who have a good sense of humor about religion.) It would break my heart to never ever see either title in English, in my lifetime. (Whereas I just want to see more of Moto Hagio’s work and had a hard time picking between A Cruel God Reigns and Poe no Ichizoku.)

So I’ll ask again: If you could have any two titles published in your language, regardless of any extenuating circumstances, what would those two titles be?

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Discussion: How Do You Pick Your Favorite Manga?

Today, a friend asked me on Twitter what my favorite manga was. I could give her a pretty quick answer of some of my all-time favorites (From Far Away and Monster) and some current favorites (Ooku and Bunny Drop), but I hesitated a moment and looked at my bookshelf, scrambling to pick just a few titles out of the many I’m collecting and reading.

It was really hard.

I read a lot of manga and I truly like about 95% of it, it not more. How do I pick from great shelf of titles when I’ve got Black Jack, Pluto, Basara, Emma, Otomen, Kimi ni Todoke, etc.? It’s extremely difficult to choose favorites! There’s so many different kinds of manga. Can I choose one each from different genres or gender spheres? What do parameters do I use to judge a favorite? Do I want to re-read it often? Do I search for a new volume (if the series is ongoing) in stores like a hawk? Do I go out of my way and buy the volumes I’m missing for higher than the cover price? There are manga that fit any one of those parameters, but they don’t *feel* like my favorites. Are they greatly loved? Oh yeah, and I’ll enthusiastically recommend quite a number of them to the right person. But are they an absolute favorite? No, not really…

My favorites are must-reads. I’ve read them all more than once and they’re titles I think I’d recommend to almost anymore. But more importantly, I’ve carried them with me through all the moving I’ve been doing in recent years and haven’t let these titles leave my bookshelves for a long time. There are very few non-favorites that have moved around with me through my college and post-college years.

So what do you use to judge what is your favorite manga? How do you make the final decision and what are some of your absolute favorites?

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Vertical Licenses Princess Knight, Drops of God and No Longer Human Manga

So Deb Aoki, the manga guide for About.com, accidentally let slip tonight that Vertical Inc. licensed Kami no Shizuku (Drops of God) on Twitter after recording a session of ANNCast. Unfortunately she deleted the tweet after realizing the official announcement hadn’t been made yet. Fortunately this spurred Zac Bertschy, Anime News Network’s executive editor, to post the announcement sooner, sending manga fans all over Twitter into a joyous frenzy when they realized Princess Knight was also picked up.

 

And now we can expect the first volumes of Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight, Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimito’s Kami no Shizuku and Usumaru Furuya’s No Longer Human to be on shelves this fall.

Twitter is delirious with joy and mentions of the now-infamous Princess Knight Guy from the live ANNCast at Anime Expo 2010.

I was lucky enough to win a bid for the first two Kodansha bilingual editions of Princess Knight last year off of eBay. Despite the fact that the purchase set me back $50, I felt it was well worth my money. No doubt I’ll be dropping more cash for the Vertical edition later this year.

Commence squeeing now.

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Hollywood Gantz Premiere Report

Ughhhh, I don’t want to start off another post by apologizing for my absence, but I’m sure all of you understand that I have gainful employment matters to take care of before I can post sometimes. Making my car payments and being able to pay for groceries is unfortunately more important than blogging. There WILL be more posts very, very soon and that is a PROMISE.

Last week I went to the Gantz movie premiere in Hollywood, which was also broadcast live across the country to other theaters. There isn’t much to say about the Hollywood premiere other than that Patrick Macias of Otaku USA hosted the event, there were tons of screaming fans for the stars of the movie, no one upheld the no photos policy and that Deb Aoki’s About.com article has much better coverage of the witty banter between the stars during the Q&A.

So now that it’s been almost a full week since the Gantz one night event and lots of people have already had their say, here’s what I think about the movie:

It shouldn’t have had Kazunari Ninomiya in it. For one, I’m not a fan of his acting. He was horrible in the live-action movie adaptation of Ooku: The Inner Chambers, where he had the emotional variations of a stone.(Seriously, half the charm of a Fumi Yoshinaga manga is the way she draws people’s emotions. Acting fail.) Gantz was better, but only because Ninomiya could smile like a creepster at the appropriate moments. Second, I’m pretty sure the fact that Ninomiya is a popular idol, singer and actor under the management of Johnny’s Entertainment is the reason why Gantz became a PG-13 summer action flick instead of the gory NC-17 mess it was supposed to be. Idols have carefully crafted images to maintain after all.

Admittedly, I haven’t read the Gantz manga yet and I didn’t go to the premiere expecting to care about the movie, but talking to Deb Aoki of About.com and flipping through a copy she had, I wanted the movie to have tits, gore and a dog in it. A dog. Who left out the dog? That was a bad choice and I am mad at them.

Which brings me to the point that watching the movie did make me interested in the manga. I managed to get past the bad dubbing, where the leads sounded like ESL students and all the background characters sounded like they were from the Bronx, and see the enjoyable movie that lay beneath. I probably would have been creeped out to death by guts flying everywhere in movie form, but in manga, I find that kind of stuff bearable. There were also some really great aliens that the people under the control of Gantz (that big black ball, in case you didn’t know) had to face. The first set, ugly looking aliens with green hair weren’t all that great, but the second alien was a smiling plastic robot with a boom box who made great faces despite the whole plastic face thing. The third was a set of possessed Buddhist statues that had the essence of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who at first, sneaking up on enemies while they weren’t looking. Also the idea of a giant Nio or thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara statues as villains is just cool to me.

In essence, Gantz really just committed the same error a lot of action films have–not leaving enough time for the audience to care about the characters, why they’re fighting and how they die. I’m not entirely sure why this happens, since I’m pretty sure a normal scene developing the characters must cost a lot less than a CGI-ed action scene, but the attractive actors will spur movie-goers into shelling out the cash anyway.

So in other words, Gantz is an entertaining movie. But if you’re a die hard fan of the manga, you’re going to be disappointed by the cheesy idol flick. If you’re an idol fan, then you’ll be just fine. Everyone, wait for the DVD release because the subtitled version should be better than the dubbed premiere for sure.

And sorry idol fans, but Kenichi Matsuyama, the other star of the film, is so much more fine than Ninomiya.

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