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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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Review: Stolen Hearts

Ever since February or so, I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting editorial changes in manga that I’m reading outside of work. Often it’s something little, sometimes it’s a bit bigger, so I’ve decided to include my notes on where I find the editorial decisions to be a bit lacking along with a review. Sure, I’m only a beginner at this whole editor business, but I figure my two cents can’t hurt and it gives me a little practice on the side! All I really want is to assess a different side of manga in the U.S., so I hope you readers enjoy this little extra perspective and my new take on reviewing manga.

Stolen HeartsStolen Hearts volume 1 by Miku Sakamoto

Shinobu Oguma is a regular high school girl until she spills milk onto one of her classmate’s bags. Unfortunately for her, the classmate just happens to be the scariest dude in class, Miharu Koguma. Koguma then ropes her into helping his grandmother advertise her kimono shop by walking around in kimono and handing out flyers. Shinobu quickly learns that her terrifying classmate is actually a big softie and the two fall in love. The rest of the volume follows their relationship working at kimono shop together, on their first date, at their school festival and in similar situations.

I have to say that this manga has one of the cutest couple-getting-together scenes I have ever EVER seen. It might be a little too contrived for real life, but you can really tell how Koguma feels about Shinobu as well as what Shinobu’s feelings are leading up to this scene. In that sense, it feels very very real. It definitely goes down in my book as one of my favorite shojo manga scenes ever.

The rest of the book progresses nicely with the couple going about their usual business and getting involved with Grandma’s schemes. I find it so adorable that they are just happy to spend most of their time together outside of school that they don’t even noticed they haven’t been on a proper date yet. I also enjoy Shinobu’s little schemes to show her friends how charming Koguma can be, which is something I think every girlfriend who is really in love with her boyfriend kind of does automatically. Fujiko, the grandmother, is also a treat as she is fiesty and a little bit of a slavedriver/obstacle, but is still considerate of the young lovers. I really hope to see her get fleshed out more in the next volume.

What I liked best about this story is how it used common cliches (a grand scheme to push the main couple together, school festivals, first date mishaps, etc.) but didn’t make a big fuss about them unlike some shojo manga. (ahem, ahem Love*Com) I also enjoyed the fact that it didn’t take Shinobu and Koguma very long to get together. I have to say I am starting to get a little bit sick of shojo that takes forever for the leads to hook up! Hopefully this will not make their romance go through one big cliched hurdle after another or that, at least, those hurdles will seem more original.

Another fun part of the story is the emphasis on kimonos, and kitsuke, the process of dressing oneself in kimono. It was great fun to see all the inventive ways you can wear kimono, especially since most shojo heroines don’t bother with kimono save for a yukata during a summer festival. While the manga is definitely a romance, it’s great to get a little bit of cultural education in the same package.

I love the cover, but was a little disappointed by the inside art. Most of my disappointment has to do with Shinobu’s face, which seems a bit off balance too me with her long bangs and super-big eyes. I felt a little bit of the same thing with Koguma, although I feel like Sakamoto will be able to draw him looking handsome more often in upcoming volumes instead of portraying him as scary with those lines across his face. Perhaps Sakamoto just needs time to feel comfortable drawing the characters. Other than that, I was delighted by the rest of the art, especially the attention paid to the kimono, and although the faces bothered me, I wouldn’t say no to this manga just because of that.

On the editorial side, I noticed a lot of little mistakes that I would have changed.  There was an aside that hit the edge of the art, blending it in with a black background. Another page had part of a letter cut off, although there was plenty of space where the entire word could have been moved to. And finally, on one page I noticed that there was an ‘Uwaaaa’ before a line where a side character was teasing Shinobu. The ‘Uwaaaa’ made no sense there, as the line should have been said straight with a sense of slight disgust,and took me out of the book, as did the other incidences despite their insignificance to enjoying the rest of the book. It says something to me that the editors weren’t able to catch the first two errors, although the last one isn’t an error so much as a stylistic choice.

Overall I am really really really looking forward to the next volume where we apparently get to deal with Koguma’s own brother trying to steal Shinobu away! If anything, I am looking forward to excellent way Sakamoto makes such cliches seem original. I would definitely recommend this book to girls who love shojo and anyone who’s open to the idea of shojo, but turned off by the idea of a cliched romance story.

Review copy provided by the reviewer.

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Tezuka Month: Ode to Kirihito vol. 1

So far my blog has been limited in it’s review power because I have to fund my review stack with my rather empty wallet. BUT, for the first time, a publisher has been kind enough to give a review copy! Hurrah! A small manga critic milestone achieved!

That being said, this is not the first time I’ve read Ode to Kirihito vol. 1. In fact, the first time I read it was when I borrowed it from a friend in college. It blew my mind. I’d NEVER read anything like it at all. I pretty much thought that all manga was shojo or shonen and that there was little beyond Tezuka than Astro Boy. Yeah, this was only a few years ago. See how far I’ve come?

Ode to Kirihito is about Kirihito Osanai, a young doctor working to cure a mysterious disease called Monmow. In order to help solve the puzzle behind the disease’s origins, he is sent to Doggodale by the director of his hospital. Once there, however, he is forced into a relationship with a local woman and contracts Monmow disease himself after a number of incidences of suspicious behavior involving the village people.

Convinced he has found the cause of the disease, Osanai attempts to return to the hospital only to meet with unfortunate circumstances and be kidnapped before he gets there. His colleague Urabe and Osanai’s fiancee Izumi attempt to locate the missing doctor, but their attempts are thwarted by Tatsugaura’s campaign to become the president of the Japanese Medical Assosciation.

The first thing I noticed while reading Ode to Kirihito was that a fair number of panels had very very sketchy art, but then the art would revert back to normal. I don’t know if this means anything, as I did try and work out if Tezuka was trying for something here, but it doesn’t seem too inappropriate considering the nature of Monmow disease. Still, I wasn’t very fond of the sketchiness. It wasn’t often in scenes that were highly intense (the whole book is intense, but there are varying degrees,)  and were often followed by panels with art as clean as day. So whatever Tezuka’s intentions were, they are lost on me.

Another thing that bothered me a little was the choice to change the format from left-t0-right instead of keeping it right-to-left. Before this starts sounding like a case of fan entitlement, I’ll mention that I read two languages right-to-left often enough that I’ve been subconsciously opening English-language books the wrong way for about nine years now. It truly threw me for a loop to see that a manga I was expecting to read right-to-left was not be that way. Since this is the only “grave sin” that Vertical commited with Ode to Kirihito as far as I can see, I think I can say it’s not that big a deal unless you’ve got your panties in a bunch. If you do, there’s a note at the beginning to explain why it’s flipped. (edit: I have been since told that the decision to flip this manga is not their decision to make, however.)

I’m sure everyone’s heard more than enough praise about Tezuka, but I still have to admire him for what he manages to do. Since I’m not a shounen/seinen fan by nature, I prefer particularly well-written shounen & seinen material as well as stuff that seems to defy the gender-based lines that a lot of Japanese manga are written around nowadays. Tezuka manages to jump over that and write and draw something that is truly easy to read no matter what your primary interest in manga is. I say this because I was able to eat it up the first time I’d read this manga despite very very little experience with manga of this depth or nature. I think this explains why Tezuka is called a god and why his work is so revered.

One other thing I particularly enjoyed were the scenes of extreme mental states, which happens most often when the story switches to Dr. Urabe’s point of view. Since Urabe is at the same time villainous and very much on the side of good, it is helpful to the reader to see his mental state before he does something truly despicable. You might not understand exactly what Tezuka’s drawing, but the message is clear that the break in sanity starts here. At first you want to despise Urabe, but as the book progresses and he throws himself into researching Monmow in Africa, saves Sister Helen and returns to Japan, you find yourself needing to re-think him. The best part is when he re-thinks himself and decides understand what he’s doing wrong and correct it. Since I don’t have volume 2, I can’t say where this character ends up, but I think he ended on a good note in this volume.

I think, in a way, Urabe is my favorite character because we get to see his emotional growth a lot more than Osanai’s. Unfortunately, the title character is rather stuck in a rut due to his disease. As readers we pity him, want him to escape his many fates and be cured, but we spend too much time seeing him put in horrible situations and having to escape them than seeing what this does to him mentally and emotionally. Further blocking this development is his resilience of will. Osanai is the good guy who cannot do much wrong. We come to understand when he must resort to acts of violence because he defends himself or another in doing so. That part of him never changes throughout volume one, although the last portions of the book did not involve any of his narrative. I rather hope he drastically changes in the next volume because I’m sick of Osanai being used and abused with little consequence for those that hurt him. Considering how the net is beginning to close around Dr. Tatsugaura, I’m sure we will see something downright vengeful in the next volume.

If you haven’t read Ode to Kirihito yet, I highly suggest you do. If you suspect it is not your thing, read it anyway. Think of it as a good education in how entertainment should be: captivating and leaving you craving for the next part.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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SPECIAL VIDEO REVIEW!

Um, so. I don’t really know how to do videos and I’m a horrible speaker. It is more obvious when I do a recording of myself. You can tell how nervous I sound in this… o_o

But we had to do a video for one of my classes and this is what happened. I didn’t really know it was going to be so poor in quality though, I am kind of disappointed in that. (And in iMovie for not letting me do various things.) My apologies for that… I still have to get the hang of this taking video thing.

Um… Enjoy and remember that I didn’t go into broadcast journalism for VERY GOOD REASONS.

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more about “SPECIAL VIDEO REVIEW!“, posted with vodpod

 

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