Tag Archives: MMF

MMF: My Reaction to Barefoot Gen 1 & 2

This post is part of the February Manga Movable Feast on Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, hosted by my good friend Sam Kusek at A Life In Panels. You can see more commentary on Barefoot Gen on his blog.

I feel like I had an atypical reaction to Barefoot Gen. Sure, it was a depressing read. So much so that my boyfriend noticed how down I was at our Valentine’s Day dinner. I was thinking of the way I wanted to approach Barefoot Gen and write this MMF post. (We did had a great time once I decided to banish all thought of Barefoot Gen for the evening.) Despite that, I wasn’t moved to tears by Barefoot Gen. I realized today, that’s because I’ve already seen it before.

This requires a bit of explanation:

I’ve mentioned before that members of my family are Holocaust survivors. That’s one thing, considering how one generation was too young to remember anything and the other generation was too scarred to speak about it. A lot of exactly what happened to my family is either buried along with the older generation or on a Shoah Foundation tape that my mother and I have felt too unprepared to watch yet. But I went to a private Jewish school for seven years for middle school and high school. I don’t know how the Holocaust was taught to the younger grades in my school, but they were pretty thorough with the older kids. As a result I’ve read a lot of literature on the Holocaust. All the well-known novels and some less-known ones. We were also treated to films, speakers, slide shows and extensive history lessons, especially around Yom Ha’Shoah, which is an Israeli/Jewish holiday mourning the victims.

The horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki aren’t the same as the Holocaust, but a different kind of genocide altogether. Oddly enough, I had already read John Hersey’s Hiroshima as part of a high school physics lesson that was probably supposed to teach us about how mighty nuclear power is. So the imagery of Barefoot Gen was not as surprising as it was for some. I already knew about the eyeless victims with their flesh melting right off them and the bodies floating down the river and the fires that killed thousands. That didn’t surprise me, although I was thankful for Keiji Nakazawa’s cartoon-y style of drawing. As often as his odd facial expressions bothered me (why were there so many awkward, winking faces?), I don’t think I could have stomached something more realistic and I cannot really imagine the true terrors that Keiji Nakazawa and the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saw in August, 1945. I don’t really want to because then I won’t be able to sleep well. I’ve had dreams about being in concentration camps before and they are pretty terrifying, let me tell you.

So I didn’t cry over Barefoot Gen. It’s not like I haven’t cried over manga before. The later volumes of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster made me cry. To be honest, if I were watching Keiji Nakazawa or another survivor talk about their experience, I would be crying uncontrollably. There’s something about seeing actual human emotion that definitely affects me more. I’ve cried in more movies than I can remember. I cried when Ongina revealed he had HIV on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I could see and hear those people. Much like horror manga, I guess sad manga doesn’t affect me as much as it’s moving counterparts. I should probably watch the movie versions of Barefoot Gen.

But  got me thinking that 1) large swaths of the world must have gone nuts in the 1930s and 40s to kill so many people so brutally and 2) the American government is definitely guilty of genocide, something I hadn’t really thought of before. I’m not a fan of a lot of typical American views and politics, but this goes beyond that. This country thought it was a great idea to end the war by replicating a lot of Nazi practices, everything from putting Japanese-Americans in camps to bombing Japanese civilians, then taking it to the next level with the atomic bomb. While America didn’t kill as many people through these methods as the Nazis did, they did unleash a different kind of horror upon the world as we know it. It disgusts me that this country, which has preached about peace and freedom for everyone, became so hypocritical as to copy their enemies’ techniques. I know, somewhere in my mind, that America probably didn’t make the decision to drop the bomb flippantly, but it strikes me  as odd that the American politicians involved couldn’t see this big, blinding, hypocritical mistake staring them in the face.

But I digress. What struck me throughout was that these were events that had happened to Nakazawa and other survivors. I think a fictional account of the bombings by someone who hadn’t survived it wouldn’t work at all. I’m grateful to the people who have spoken out about atrocities like this because, as heavy as the knowledge and hindsight of these events are, at least the world knows now. Barefoot Gen‘s existence in the world is only one of many survivor’s tales, but it teaches us things we never knew or realized before. It makes us think about who was killed, not just faceless bodies, but people who suffered. Even if it’s just a cartoon-y face that doesn’t quite hold the visual impact you want it to, those faces are someone’s.

To end this post, since it seems to be getting a little preachy and I didn’t really want to do that, I want to thank Sam Kusek for bringing Barefoot Gen to the Manga Movable Feast. Truly, it’s not a manga I would have gotten into easily without this reason to, mostly because it’s not widely available anymore, but also because it’s a tough read. Glancing at some of the other posts that have been written by other bloggers, Barefoot Gen has truly rocked a few people’s worlds. It’s not the best manga in a lot of senses, but it encompasses the idea often touted by Jews–“Never Forget.” People think that just applies to the Holocaust, but that’s not true. It’s important to learn about the Holocaust, the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and other atrocities so that we learn from past behavior and take to heart the goal of becoming better, less hateful people. It’s best to learn from primary sources like Keiji Nakazawa because they’ll drive that all-important message home.

Here’s a little something to cheer the MMF participants up: (Warning, link contains adorably catchy song.)

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November MMF: I didn’t read One Piece

That’s right. I didn’t. Yes, I know that sort of defeats the whole purpose of writing an MMF post, but I wanted to participate somehow. I haven’t been able to participate in a few of the past months because I was too busy or because I couldn’t find my copies of the manga. (Where the heck ARE you After School Nightmare?!)

There are a few reasons why I’ve shirked reading One Piece:

1. There were no copies of the first omnibus on the shelves of any bookstore that I went to in the months since the One Piece Manga Moveable Feast was scheduled. If there had been, I probably would have  guilted myself into buying it. I was too lazy to buy it online. (More specifically, I don’t really trust the postal system or delivery services after my college job.) I didn’t want to buy the first three volumes separately because what if I didn’t really like it? Then I have volumes I don’t want to read wasting precious apartment space. With an omnibus, it just felt easier to slide in.

2. Shounen manga isn’t my thing. At all. I am a shoujo manga person by heart. I get upset when I realize I’ve been ignoring my favorite shoujo series for other awesome stuff like Black Jack or Real or some gekiga manga. (No really, I have gotten upset that I haven’t read the latest volumes of Kimi ni Todoke because I’ve been focusing on reading other genres.) I haven’t read too many shounen manga that I’d even want to buy. Someone gave me a copy of Soul Eater not too long ago and I don’t want to continue the series on my own. The only shounen manga I’ve bought for myself recently is Cross Game (because I know there’s a romantic aspect) and a couple of copies of Shounen Jump (for research.)

3. Frankly, the idea of picking up a series that is already 60 volumes long, with no clear end in sight, is terrifying. I haven’t collected any series longer than about 35 volumes. Bookshelf space is precious to me because I live in a tiny apartment right now. One Piece just seems like the kind of thing I’d be more interested in if I had space to spare. I do not. Trying to smartly use the space that I have for non-manga stuff is hard enough already… I don’t even have enough room for my entire collection to boot! A sizable chunk is still at my mom’s place. Maybe when I have a bigger place and tons of shelves to call my own.

I know what the reaction to this post is going to be. Some people will probably berate me for being so stupid about not trying One Piece out. Others might offer to send me a copy (which is nice of you, but if we aren’t close, I won’t accept it. Thank you for the nice gesture, though.) Some people will be disappointed in me, either silently or openly and that is fine. I’ve expected all that. Some might suggest I face the series from a different vantage point (there’s been lots of talk about how later arcs of One Piece are more engaging than the beginning), but I’m a bit of a purist. I’d much rather get started from the beginning and be interested enough to continue collecting.

So I’m not reading One Piece right now.

I’ll still keep an eye out for that first omnibus though.

If you want to read more about the One Piece Manga Moveable Feast, however, I suggest looking elsewhere.

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June Manhwa Moveable Feast: The Color Trilogy

Welcome to this month’s Manhwa Moveable Feast, the first time the MMF has featured on a Korean comic book instead of a Japanese one and also the first time I’ve been able to review a complete series for the MMF! Yay!

The Color Trilogy is about a young Korean girl and her mother in early 20th Century rural Korea. The story depicts the relationship between Ehwa and her single mother as Ehwa grows from a child to a married adult and her emotional and sexual development along the way. The Color of Earth focuses on Ehwa’s slow awareness of sexuality and the beginning of crushes on boys,  The Color of Water focuses on Ehwa’s budding relationship with Duksam and The Color of Heaven focuses on Ehwa’s tragic separation from Duksam and their eventual marriage upon his return.

The art of The Color Trilogy is quite beautiful. The characters are drawn simply, but their emotions are vibrant and Kim Dong Hwa clearly paid a lot of attention to them and the background details, which is important because so much of his writing is poetic lines about flowers or butterflies.

The writing and the overall story of The Color Trilogy is where I start seeing a lot of faults. This isn’t to say Kim Dong Hwa is a terrible writer and The Color Trilogy is devoid of moments that draw you into the story, but the whole manhwa is so goddamn poetic it started to get on my nerves. Now I know life was different back then and maybe they had a little bit more time to be philosophical, but does every single line in a comic book have to be some new (or continued) metaphor about a flower or a butterfly? I can barely even think about how many sappy lines The  Color Trilogy had without wanting to start cursing like a sailor just to reverse the effect. That isn’t to say it’s all bad or that some of those lines didn’t hold true, but I just wanted some more straightforward writing and normal conversations every once in awhile. Ehwa and her friend Bongsoon spoke in metaphors every single time they met up! The customers at Ehwa’s mother’s tavern pretty  much spoke in nothing but lewd euphemisms ALL THE TIME! No one in this whole trilogy was spared from this drippy, flowery (my apologies for the pun) language. It got to the point where I just wanted to scream “ALRIGHT ALREADY” at the characters.

The language, however, is not even my least favorite part of the series. There was one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind: “Geez, my  mom and I were never so poetic and open about sex and boys.” Let’s get some background in here: Much like Ehwa, I have a single working mother and my father had exited my life at a very early age. My mom’s been single ever since and pretty much focused her life on me and her business, again, much like Ehwa’s mother. I never got talks about sex and boys. I had to figure it all out on my own. I got warnings or awkward snippets of sex talks when I started dating like: “boys are not allowed in your room” and “are you having sex with [boyfriend’s name]?” My mom pretty much just trusted in sex ed to teach me what I needed to know in order to be safe and responsible. While I realize that Ehwa and I live in much different times, I cannot help but think Ehwa’s mother would have been too busy, just as my mother is/was, to spend so much time waxing poetically about men and what women need to do to get one. I mean… the most important thing I learned from my single, working mom is to always be able to take care of yourself (money-wise), not “give everything you’ve got into finding a man because that’s the only road to happiness.” I feel like that lesson is way more important than getting my boyfriend to put a ring on my finger even if I did want to get married right now!

Ehwa’s mother certainly isn’t a bad person for trying to school her daughter in such a way and getting married in such a time period was more vital to a woman than it is now, but just realize this: that’s ALL we ever see mother and daughter doing together. I may be taking the comparison between Ehwa and myself too far here, but whenever I spent time with my mom, it was usually doing something that needed doing. I helped her out in her office, I walked the dogs with her, I helped her fix dinner. Sure, I did fun stuff with her, but even on half of our vacations I was helping her lead a tour group most of the time or going with her to inspect hotels! (Clarification: my mom runs a travel business.) My mom certainly put me to work because she needed to and because I was there to do that. I find it surprising that Ehwa doesn’t even start learning how to cook until she’s almost marrying age or that we don’t see Ehwa helping out in her mother’s tavern at all. Ehwa doesn’t even help around the house that much (that we’re shown, really) until The Color of Heaven where we see her sweeping up leaves, doing the laundry and going to the market on her own to buy stuff for her mother. Considering how much Ehwa’s allowed to run around as a child, you would think she’d be given plenty of chores to do so her mother’s not constantly busy trying to run a tavern and sweep the porch and buy the groceries, all while raising a child. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing here between the early 20th Century Korean culture and late 20th Century American culture, but it seems like a more realistic Ehwa wouldn’t have gone out picking useless flowers so much!

I guess the biggest thing that makes me mad about The Color Trilogy is this relaxed relationship, which I didn’t get to have, is just so unrealistic to me. (I don’t feel that bitter, I just cannot suspend my belief long enough to truly think Ehwa would do nothing but chatter idly about guys and sex with her mom for years.) Perhaps I’m also jealous that Ehwa got so much freedom to explore relationships with boys. I don’t know. But I’m certainly more mad that Ehwa and her mom discuss nothing but. How one-sided and sexist is it to have a comic based entirely on grooming a girl for marriage and eschewing the importance of having a man in your life?

Aside from my mad rant, which I’m sure is full of flaws of its own, The Color Trilogy suffers from some more problematic issues. The characters spend a lot of time doing nothing but conversing, even when they’re out and about. Because of this the pacing of  the whole series is remarkably slow and when you do get a few moments of more exciting story development, they’re gone just as quickly as they came.

Out of the three, The Color of Earth is the most bearable in terms of all the metaphorical language and the story line. It also self-contains, so it’s the easiest to read without moving onto the other volumes, although The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven have more moments of dynamic storytelling.

I would recommend this book to people who are a bit older and have a bit of relationship experience under their belt. While this book has some discussion questions meant probably for teen-aged readers, I wouldn’t feel quite comfortable giving this to a girl of 15 or so because the story places so much importance in getting married and I feel like children, especially teenagers who are preparing to make serious life decisions, need to be shown that there are multiple paths open to them no matter what the convention is. For adults, however, The Color Trilogy can be a good read if you’re just the right kind of romantic and able to suspend your disbelief more than I was able to. I guess I just relate to the characters a little too well to believe them.

If you want to hear more opinions about The Color Trilogy, please check out this introduction and an archive of posts by this month’s MMF host Melinda Beasi of Manga Bookshelf.

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Podcasts!

I have to say,  I’ve been a little bit shy about doing podcasts because I’ve never thought of myself as a great speaker, but the opportunity was brought before me and now I’ve been in two anime and manga-related podcasts!

Here are the links so you can check them out:

The most recent is the April MMF podcast for Mushishi at Ed Sizemore’s Manga Out Loud, in which I don’t talk very much because the other participants totally out-shined me! That’s ok, they’re all great reviewers and had a lot more to say about Mushishi’s art, story and depth than I did.  I still had a great time though! Thanks for letting me join, Ed!

The second (which is actually my first podcast ever), hosted by Joseph Medina’s Jammer’s Animovie Blog, is A LOT sillier. But I did talk a lot more about what I know about the manga industry. Either way, we got way off tangent many, many times. There is also a fair amount of off-key singing. I tried…!

I hope you listen to and enjoy these podcasts. Let me know what you think because I’m still a little gun-shy, but I want to do more podcasts now. I’d love some criticism!

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Manga Moveable Feast: Mushishi vol. 1-4

The first time I came across Mushishi was when my really awesome college anime club watched it about two years ago. I picked up the manga in bookstores to take a peek, but it wasn’t high on my list of things to buy. So I never did. UNTIL NOW. -cue dramatic music-

Said club having really terrific taste in anime, I rather loved watching Mushishi although it usually hit me as kind of slow. (It showed right before our dinner break, so I guess I was just anxious for some grub or something.) That was awhile ago so picking up the first four volumes of the Mushishi manga felt familiar, but still rather fresh.

Mushishi is about a “doctor” of sorts named Ginko who researches and deals with cases of mushi, semi-mystical and bug-like primordial beings that coexist alongside plants and animals, but act in many different ways, be they parasitic, otherwise harmful or completely docile. The manga chronicles Ginko’s adventures in no particular order with self-contained plots in each chapter. While some might say it would be easy to start at a random volume, I still feel like it’s best to start at the beginning where Yuki Urushibara is making the effort to explain the mushi and what Ginko does.

Urushibara is specifically unclear as she states in her postscript that there isn’t a particular time attached to Mushishi, although she suspects it is sometime between the Edo and Meiji periods. I’m glad she made this choice because it would be a lot more difficult to do this story in a modern setting, like some manga might which always strikes me as a little B-rated fantasy flick-ish. Thanks to this, Mushishi retains a mystical and timeless quality as it really should be.

Ginko is a really cool protagonist. He seems like a real person despite his strange surroundings who tries very hard at his job and really likes mushi a lot. He regularly attempts to make all the right decision for everybody, but isn’t totally against doing something that will benefit himself or something that technically breaks a taboo. My favorite chapters throughout the first four volumes (I’m planning on picking up the rest on Saturday, so perhaps I can do a second post right before the Manga Moveable Feast ends) are “The Sea of Brushstrokes” (vol. 2) about a girl born with a mushi sealed inside her right leg who must write about killing mushi in order to expel it, “The Fish Gaze” (vol.3) which is about Ginko’s past and how he got his strange features, “Picking the Empty Cocoon” (vol. 4) about a girl who takes care of a certain kind of mushi and the loss of her sister to this mushi and “In the Cage” (vol. 4) about a family that is trapped inside a bamboo grove by a white bamboo mushi.

This manga reminds me a lot of Natsume’s Book of Friends mixed with Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (in a sort of action-packed with interesting characters way) so if you like either of those manga you’ll probably be interested in Mushishi.

The art starts out a bit on the difficult side of sketchy at first, but eventually comes into it’s own as the manga moves on.  While I’m perfectly content with the style, if you really really like super clean artwork, then this manga isn’t for you.  All in all, I think it really suits the story and it’s mysterious subjects, but I won’t lie that a few years ago I probably would have frowned a little at this style. I used to really admire clean lines.

While I rather like the art and the story, I have some complaints from a editor’s perspective. From volume 1 I was extremely annoyed by the choice of font for the narratives. I was really hoping it would go away after the first volume, but no such luck. It also had some spiky strokes (usually white  lines around the font to make it show up against darker panels, etc.)  that just looked so unnatural to me. I know this is kind of a really picky thing to complain about, but font choice is pretty important and this particular font pretty much reminded me of the way Papyrus is misused for every single “ancient”-looking thing out there. I hate Papyrus with a passion if you can’t tell. I personally would have chosen something that looked more handwritten and similar to the wavy brushstrokes that are used to draw the mushi.

Another problem I had with the book was that Del Rey seemed completely unaware that some of the dialogue was in the bleed zone. (The bleed zone is some buffer space given so nothing important, like dialogue, will be cut off in printing.) This happened consistently through four volumes and it just REALLY pisses me off to have to practically crack the book’s spine just to get at some text in the middle or to see half of a line of text disappear at the bottom of a page. To me this says: SOMEONE WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION, takes me out of the book and makes the whole thing a lot harder to read. They also advertised “special extras” on the back of every volume, but if the special extras were the inclusion of a few pages of the next volume, I could have done without the anticipation. Sure, it’s not in the original Japanese version, but extra pages (in Japanese) of the next volume are NOT that special to me. Am I jaded? Perhaps, but it’s not like I was buying Mushishi for these “special extras” anyway. Overall, the packaging is nice and I like the paper they used for the covers, which isn’t glossy and makes the watercolored cover art to look really awesome. All the covers are pretty, but volume 4 (pictured above) is my favorite so far.

Finally, and this is probably an artistic or editorial decision on the Japanese side to let some of the tones slip over into the word balloons. I don’t know why it bothers me so much because it does seem to fit the whole feel of Mushishi, but it just seems so lazy to me. It’s not that consistent either, although I noticed it usually happens to balloons in landscape scenes. In the end, I guess this is all just stuff I would correct as an editor, if I was the editor.

As whole, I wouldn’t skip Mushishi just because of my little editorial nitpicking. It says something about this series that even after I’ve seen the anime (which is basically a verbatim adaption of the manga), I’ve been more than happy to buy the manga. (Not just for the Feast, but it was an excellent excuse.) I’d even be willing, in a few months time, to pick it up for a casual re-read.

If you would like to read more about Mushishi, check out the other Manga Moveable Feast entries at Manga Worth Reading! Thank you to Ed Sizemore for hosting this month’s event!

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