Much as I hate to admit it, at this point Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei has hit something like a comfortably formulaic plateau. What was funny and startling in the first couple of volumes has been reduced to a set of dance steps. They’re well-executed, but they’re a far cry from the wild fandango that kicked off this series, and so a comment like “How I laughed!” now carries with it a “but…”.
And yet, at the same time, there really isn’t anything else like this right now. Would that I had to find shelf-space partners for Zetsubo-sensei, they would consist of a very small, oddball list of other comics — the riotous Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga!, or maybe Usamaru Furuya’s indescribable and hilarious Palepoli. All of which, now that I think about it, are united in that they tap into humor that’s as peculiarly Japanese as it is a tough sell for people who are not already fans. I’ve talked before about this, and with each passing volume SZS gets no easier to stump for, even as it becomes that much more predictable. Read more
This is the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. It is also not the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. Not the last volume that Vertical, Inc. will be publishing in English; and not the last of such stories that was originally published in Japan, either.
It’s complicated. So much so that at the end of the volume, the editors have to step in and explain why there will be more Black Jack even though the final story does feel very much like a sign-off: there was such a clamor for more Black Jack that Tezuka filled orders for more stories in the series, on and off, for half a decade after it was officially shuttered. To that end there are several more volumes to come, which explains why the ending we get is a non-ending — and why it might be best to start there and work my way back through the book.Read more
The timing of this book could not be more, well, timely. I spent most of last week, from the Sunday of the 7th through the following Sunday, nursemaiding my missus and her broken ankle. Despite that, she was determined to make as much use as possible of her three remaining limbs even if she ended up breaking them, too. Her nerve (the psychic kind) and determination were enough at one point to make me blurt out: “Black Jack would have loved you as a patient.”
I had to explain that one to her.
Some of you in the back of the class already know this, I’m sure. I shall repeat myself, as it bears repeating. What Black Jack loves more than almost anything else (save maybe suitcases fulla yen bills) is a patient who meets him halfway — someone whose will to live and determination to be healed is as strong as his own will to save their sorry ass. It’s something common to many people I’ve known who stand out so far in their field or are so far at the top of their respective game that they don’t feel like there’s anyone else around. When you have someone, anyone sharing your slice of stratosphere, however fleetingly, you feel that much less like an aberration and a … well, a freak. Read more
Most of us have at some point in our lives a heartbreaking revelation. There are the things we want to do, and the things we do well. Worse, the two often have nothing in common. Such is Soichi Negishi’s lot: he wants to be a fixture of the hip turtleneck-sweater-wearing Tokyo scene, but he’s best at donning facepaint, assuming the alter ego of Krauser II and tearing it up on stage with his diabolical band Detroit Metal City. As Agent Smith once said, one of these lives has a future … and the other does not.
Over the course of three-and-then-some volumes of Detroit Metal City, we’ve seen how to play this dichotomy for laughs. The downside is that there only seem to be a finite number of ways to do this: as long as the basic gag is that almost nobody knows Negishi is Krauser (and vice versa), DMC’s going to be doomed to repeat itself. That doesn’t mean it’s doomed to not be funny, though, and some of the stuff that goes down in the third book is funny enough that you risk spit-laughing out your coffee on the guy in front of you if you read this on the bus. Read more
The hardest thing about being ridiculous is keeping some semblance of ground rules. It’s OK to blow up the world on a whim in something like BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo or even South Park, but less easy to get away with it in Seinfeld (or Lucky Star). There, it wouldn’t be funny, just a distraction.
That’s in part what’s been a little startling about Detroit Metal City. They could have, at any time, turned the whole thing into a merry-go-round of absurdity where Krauser fights aliens and slices UFOs in half with his guitar. As crazy as things become in volume four, they all unfold according to a few basic ground rules: all that is funny in DMC must revolve around the fundamental absurdity, outlandishness, and lordly might of death metal. It does. Read more
Tsutomu Nihei creates spectacular manga about giant, rotting, manmade landscapes where stern-looking men and bizarre-looking monsters stalk about and do their best to blow each other up.
That’s about all his previous Big Thing, Blame!, amounted to in my eyes, which showed up in English in both its manga and animated incarnations. I awarded it plenty of points for sheer visual exhilaration, and took away about as many for having only as much story as might be needed to hustle everyone from one act of violence to the next.
From what I can make of Biomega so far, it’s more of the same. Bad thing? Good thing? A good thing, I guess: many people I know are perfectly happy with manga that aims no higher than the part of the cerebral cortex that gets happy when things go boom. In Biomega, many things do indeed go boom, from a giant crumbling castle leaning out of the side of a cliff face to a whole fleet of ICBMs. The missiles, by the way, go boom in a way that had me gibbering “No … no … no,” long before I ever turned the page and confirmed that the hero was indeed going to make them go boom in the single craziest way imaginable. I suspect I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t done it that way.Read more
“Now I told you that story to tell you this one.”
That was Bill Cosby, between two of his best routines. That could also have been Naoki Urasawa, right before he made that dozen-year leap forward in the middle of the last volume of 20th Century Boys. What’s past is prologue — not just the childhoods of the characters in the 1970s and their adolescence during the 1980s, but the whole “present time” storyline of the 1990s was itself also just prelude. It’s the most daring storytelling chronology I’ve seen in manga since Tezuka sliced and diced time and leapt across the eons in his many-times-over-epic Phoenix.
It’s also not a stunt. The further Urasawa delves into his tale of Apocalypse Now (And Always), the more you see why he chose to tell his story like this, with so many key pieces deliberately missing. For one, it builds suspense; here it is, fourteen years later and the fates of many characters are still up in the air. Last volume we learned about little Kanna, still carrying a torch for her father and the resistance he manifested against the Friends. And in this installment we finally learn what happened to another crucial member of Kenji’s crew: Shogun. It’s not pretty. Read more
So why, you might ask, am I now reviewing volume 8 of Black Jack when I was only just reviewing volume 9? Happenstance, mostly. Somehow I ended up missing volume 7 in a mail mix-up, although when that comes in I’ll be sure to fill in the gap. For now, I’m walking backwards.
And as I did with 9, I’ll say the most important part first: This is one of the better volumes in the series. That doesn’t come from the cleverness of the conundrums Black Jack gets to untangle, or because he’s extra-dexterous in the operating room this time around (because, when is he ever not like that?). The reason the better stories in Black Jack are the better stories is because they serve all the more to underscore how Black Jack stands apart from the world he’s torn between serving and exploiting. Read more
I’ll put this part behind me right away. As Black Jacks go, volume 9 is only fair. That makes it an okay part of a great whole — but that doesn’t dilute the quality of the whole. It simply makes the good parts of this series all the more worthy.
It also doesn’t mean volume 9 should be ignored. In fact, reading it compelled more thought about the series and the way I’ve approached manga in translation than most anything I’ve laid eyes on in months. The reason? This is the first volume of BJ I’ve read in Japanese long before the English version ever landed on my doorstep.
I hadn’t planned to do it that way. Insights are never planned. Late last year, in New York City’s Book-Off, I ran across a used copy of the untranslated volume 9 for the whopping price of $1. I needed no persuasion. At that price, any book would have been worth it; this one, doubly so. I slapped down my credit card, ran home, and that night read it cover-to-cover with my electronic kanji dictionary close at hand. But somehow I’d grown so used to Black Jack as a translated work that I couldn’t help but feel I’d only read half the book — that the other half was Vertical’s own yet-to-be-released edition, which now sits to my left as I type this.Read more
Del Rey loves us. By “us”, I mean fans who take the completist approach. People who don’t just watch the show or read the comic, but want all the ancillary goodies — the art books, the character guides, the bric-a-brac that used to never show up in English at all. Or when they did, they showed up in editions so trashy they made people wonder why anyone had bothered.
But they love us, especially us Tsubasa fans, and so Del Rey has graciously consented to present us with a domestic printing of the original art collection for the series, ALBuM De REProDUCTioNS (funny caps theirs; my Shift key works fine) as part of a flood of 20th anniversary CLAMP merchandise. The book is long on art and short on under-the-hood or behind-the-scenes stuff, which is actually at least as interesting to me as the pictures themselves. But Tsubasa fans will have very little to complain about.Read more