Japan Manga Books I
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Manabeshima Island Japan: One Island, Two Months, One Minicar, Sixty Crabs, Eighty Bites and Fifty Shots of Shochu
by Florent Chavouet
At first blush it is hard to imagine graphic artist Florent Chavouet's esoteric book about a mostly unknown Japanese island called Manabeshima selling more than a few dozen copies. Who would buy this quirky book? Only 300 people live on Manabeshima, located off the coast of Osaka, and there is pretty much nothing to see or do on the island, nothing of interest. The tourism industry is nonexistent. If, however, you do pick up this gem the first thing that will strike you is the artwork itself. Chavouet's drawing talents are remarkable. You can sense from his drawings how the people of the island think and even, somehow, why they think what they do. The book is mostly chronological, starting with Chavouet's unannounced arrival. He finds that the island's lone hotel is closed, and the locals suggesting he try another nearby island which has a hotel.
He persists, and somehow talks his way into being allowed to stay at the hotel even though it is not scheduled to reopen for a few weeks. Try that in your home country! He gets to know the people of the island, who are fascinated by his drawings of their daily lives. He starts getting invitations to watch and participate in various island functions, meetings and festivals.
Steering clear of condescension but unable to learn everyone's name at first, he gives the more notable residents nicknames to keep them clear in his mind. There is Day-Glo cap guy, burping grandma, Mr. Technology and the vagabond. Eventually, he gets all the names down. By the time you get to the detailed map of where the various cat gangs can be found and short, anthropomorphic descriptions of the gangs, you have either fallen in love with the book or tossed it out long before.
Eventually, the two-month trip comes to a close and Chavouet must return to his native France. He, and the reader, are much richer for the experience. There is a small, added bonus when you get to the end of the book. Inserted underneath the back inside cover is a sizable map of the island. There is no mention of this map anywhere in the book, and undoubtedly some people will miss the map at first. It is also quirky, but fun.
Manabeshima Island Japan is actually a good book for restoring your faith in mankind in case you are running low in that department. The purity and camaraderie of the people is difficult to miss. Life's exciting bells and whistles are missing in Manabeshima's world, but it matters little to the people there. Those who have experienced inaka (the countryside) in Japan will enjoy the book the most, but anybody with a keen interest in the country will likely find the book entertaining at the very least. The brilliance of the drawings and the sharpness of the humor will make sure of that.
Onibi: Diary of a Yokai Ghost Hunter
by Atelier Sento (Cecile Brun & Olivier Pichard)
Tuttle Publishing, 2018
111 pp; Paperback
Cécile and Olivier are two young French travelers returning to Niigata, Japan, to search for ancient spirit foxes, ghosts, ghouls and other yokai who still reside in rural Japan.
Along the way they buy an old film camera, a camera which can capture images of yokai and Japan's invisible spirit world because "the lenses have been specially polished by monks." They are told that the camera works even if the photographer can't see the spirits when taking pictures.
In each of the eight chapters (diary entries) Cécile and Olivier set off in search of the yokai and meet various kind and hospitable Niigata people, not all of whom turn out to be human. The reader will be introduced to various aspects of the distant countryside in Japan in general, and Niigata in specific. Those who have lived in Japan's inaka will understand just how kind the people are. Those familiar with Niigata place names such as Yakima, Uchino and Saruwada will get a special enjoyment.
Undoubtably, the best part of this graphic novel is the artwork, which is not overly detailed but is very well done. It well enhances the mysterious feeling of the spirit world.
The book has been translated from French, and in a few places the translation is a bit rough. Also, the book is about two travelers, but the title is Diary of a Yokai Ghost Hunter. Whose diary is it?
After the book concludes with a surprising ending, there is a very small glossary for the Japan neophyte and a few pages on how to develop your yokai pictures because "yokai pictures captured on film are very fragile. You have to take precautions."
The audience for this book probably only extends to age 16 or so. There are unexpected and slightly spooky moments, but nothing scary. There is not really enough happening to keep an older audience enchanted for long, but enjoyable nevertheless.
Lupin III, Volume I
by Monkey Punch
Inspired by Maurice LeBlanc's Arsene Lupin, Lupin III made its debut in Japan in 1967 and has become an icon in the world of Japanese manga and animation. To broaden its appeal, TokyoPop has put out an English version of the original manga. It is printed in the Japanese right-to-left fashion, and some of the Japanese sound effects have been left in to maintain the feel of the original comic. The eponymous lead character, Lupin, is an odd combination of personalities: part James Bond, part klutz, part action hero, part Robin Hood, all ladies man. Master of disguise and escape, Lupin kills remorselessly and slays women with equal abandon. (On the cover, the book has been rated "OT: older teen, age 16+.") Even for those put off by the occasional puerile digressions of the hero--or the often politically incorrect content--Lupin III is a visual feast. In places Mad Magazine, in others Ralph Steadman, the series features jumpcuts, close-ups, multiple arrangements of the panels, and witty drawings. Also, irony abounds. In the chapter "To Catch a Weasel," a thuggish character begins undressing a drugged and unwilling woman who has already told him what he wanted to know--keeping up her end of the bargain--but he brushes her off her plea to stop saying, "Come on, Luv. This is a Monkey Punch manga. He likes this sort of thing." In the next panel, the woman replies to the clearly distressed-looking thug seen only from the front, "Yeah..."--cut to the next panel, which is now seen from a side angle so that the knife in the thug's back becomes visible--"But he likes this sort of thing, too." The original manga spawned a television series that ran from 1971-84. It also gave birth to eight feature films, one of which was directed by Oscar-winning director Hayao Miyazaki. Recently, a US film producer has bought the rights to make an action film of Lupin III. This is a great introduction to the wild world of Japanese manga.
Hayao Miyazaki: Master Of Japanese Animation
by Helen McCarthy
With the notable exception of Tezuka Osamu, no one has done more than Miyazaki Hayao to take Japanese animation to a worldwide audience. The celebrated writer, animator and director's Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) smashed box office records in Japan when it was released earlier this year, though it didn't do as well as expected in the United States. After grossing 0.4 billion at the Japanese box office, Spirited Away went on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Miyazaki's films display a level of technical mastery and attention to character and plot that has his Studio Ghibli regularly outdoing Disney, financially and critically. Indeed, the popularity of his works has outgrown the confines of animation; the 1988 Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) was named the second most popular film of all time in an NHK poll, forgivably beaten into first place by Kurosawa Akira's Shichinin no Samurai (The Seven Samurai). In her study of the animator's life and work, Helen McCarthy manages to temper her scholarly interest with enough raw enthusiasm to draw in the layman. McCarthy begins, though, with some ill-judged advice. Having warned that what follows will include plot synopses of all of Miyazaki's major works, she then recommends, with some indifference, the non-buff whose interest in film is restricted to discovering "what happens" to stop reading.
That, however, is the only minor blot on an otherwise thoughtful and well-researched work that draws on scores of magazine and newspaper articles, books, television programmes and interviews with Miyazaki himself. The sections on the origins of each film, and the character profiles and critical commentaries are ideal accompaniments to the films themselves, particularly for those who have dismissed, mistakenly in Miyazaki's case, the anime genre as long on thrills and short on feeling. The best passages explore Miyazaki's inspiration for his masterpieces. They are not, we learn, simply the fruits of a fertile imagination, but are also grounded in classical literature, family, working-class consciousness and a concern for the environment. The only quibble here is that McCarthy devoted so little space to the driving force behind Studio Ghibli's astounding success since it was set up in the mid-1980s. Miyazaki's days at university (where he studied politics and economics), his early Marxist leanings, and his heavy involvement in trade unionism while working as a lowly inbetweener at Toei Animation in the early 1960s could have been explored in greater depth since, by McCarthy's own admission, his political views continue to have a bearing on his work.
But the anime newcomer will find much of interest in McCarthy's description of production techniques used at the studio, and purists will be comforted to find that, despite ever-tighter schedules, the vast majority of frames in a Miyazaki film are hand-crafted, although, as the author points out, this apparent concession to aesthetic integrity is partly commercially inspired. Fortunately, McCarthy's decision to discuss the films' endings does negligible damage to this authoritative, comprehensive study that should fulfill her aim of opening the door to anime appreciation to a non-Japanese audience.
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out magazine
Kapilavastu: (Buddha Vol. 1)
by Osamu Tezuka
In Buddha Volume One: Kapilavastu, the legendary "Godfather" of Japanese manga Osamu Tezuka builds around the birth of the historical Buddha Siddhartha, but doesn't focus on the future enlightened one himself. The story's protagonist is instead the slave boy Chapra, possessor of a lighting-fast, super-powered arm that allows him to play David against the Goliaths of oppression, Spartacus to the historical Indian caste system, and even protector of the baby Buddha from would-be invading marauders. He doesn't do this alone, of course: Tatta the Urchin, a mischievous street youth with the handy ability to possess the bodies of animals, becomes Chapra's loyal sidekick. Together they combat injustice, outwit the enemy, and lend a humorous tone to Tezuka's romp through the realm of Kapilavastu.
Tezuka's creation is an adventure in postmodernism, but it could easily have developed as historical fiction along the lines of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, and in this aspect Kapilavastu shines. The story's opening, a poignant and sweeping overview of the Brahmin, is a marvel of simplicity. Tezuka presents the enlightenment inspiring, mythological tale of a self-immolating rabbit without a word of dialogue, and here he shows why he is known as a master of the genre. When the narrative vehicle then turns to Chapra and the Adam West Batman style THWAK!! BAM!! and WHOOSH!! of slapstick action, the spiritual and historical significance of Siddhartha takes a backseat role. This diversion can be a bit disappointing to those expecting Buddha to be about the Buddha, but if you sit back and enjoy the ride, dismissing anachronisms like pocket watches and packs of cigarettes and just soaking in the drama, it's a diversion worth taking. Woven within these seemingly tangential episodes are parables that reveal the Buddha nature (yes, in between the THWAK!s and BAM!s), and the world that Tezuka has created, stroke by stroke, frame by frame, is the stage for what is sure to be an epic of manga epics.
Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society (Consumasian Book Series)
by Sharon Kinsella
Japan's literacy rate and high number of books and newspapers published are oft-touted figures showing Japan's highly educated populace, however over half the "books" published in Japan are in fact Manga - comic books. Manga have also become one of Japan's top cultural exports, gaining increasing popularity in the west. Sharon Kinsella's book is a history of, and more importantly, a detailed analysis of manga for adults. Following a brief history of the medium, she then examines how manga has changed since its boom in the 1960's.
Originally produced by "outsiders", young alienated males, manga was transformed into a form of "High" culture. Any young man with drawing talent could find an outlet among dozens of independent manga publishers, and easily become a star. Now a handful of big corporations control manga production and "artists" labor anonymously for relatively low wages. The content of Manga has changed dramatically as well. Early manga concerned itself with anti-authoritarian themes and often leaned to the Left politically. Now manga has become the preferred medium for corporations, and even government ministries publish material in manga form. Kinsella also looks at the "otaku panic" that gripped Japan in the 90s when all manner of society's ills became blamed on readers of manga, and she also looks at the recurring attempts to censor the medium. Backed up by masses of data, this well-researched book should be of interest to fans of manga. The book is also highly valuable to anyone interested in mass media in Japan, and those concerned with State appropriation of cultural forms.
Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga
by Frederik L. Schodt
Stone Bridge Press
The dean of English-language work on Japanese manga, Frederik Schodt has followed up his classic, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, in brilliant form. Dreamland is a series of essays that outline just what manga is, the otaku phenomenon, notable magazines, a who's who of individual artists and their work, and a lengthy chapter on Osamu Tezuka.
Japan is, as the author notes, a country "awash in manga." Of all the books and magazines sold in Japan in 1995, manga accounted for a stunning 40%, or some 2.3 billion (that's 15 for every Japanese person). In dollars, the industry's annual worth is in the neighborhood of $7-9 billion. At some of Japan's prestigious publishing houses, manga are subsidizing the more serious art and literature they put out.
Yet, the real triumph of manga "lies in their celebration of the ordinary." As a US comic artist notes, in the US comics are a caricature, while in Japan "it seems like most popular comics areof normal people doing normal things." Schodt goes further: manga are "an articulation of the dream world. Reading manga is like peering into the unvarnished, unretouched reality of the Japanese mind." He concedes, though, that one must question what the overall effect of having so much information transmitted via the medium of a comic book - "that deliberately emphasizes deformation and exaggeration - has on a people.
Schodt's understanding of his theme and of Japan are breathtaking. His section on Tezuka, the originator of Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy and many more titles, is especially well done. The God of Manga, for whom a museum has been constructed, was a friend of the author and contains many insights into a revered figure in Japan. Highly recommended - for manga and non-manga fans alike.
Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics
by Frederik L. Schodt
Originally published in 1983, Fred Schodt's re-released Manga! Manga! is an improvement on an already stellar work. Schodt is a translator, writer, and critic on things Japanese - in particular manga. He writes in a fluent, articulate style that will persuade even the conservative high culture guardians that manga (and anime) belongs along with Kabuki and Noh and flower arrangement in the pantheon of great Japanese cultural gifts to the world. Manga! Manga! is meticulously researched and leavened with anecdotes from Schodt's many years in Japan.
When the first edition appeared, some twenty years ago, outside of Japan few even knew what manga was. Manga today is a major industry. In 1996, some 2.3 billion magazines were being churned out - or 40% of all publications in highly literate Japan. Adults are now being targeted with more plot-driven manga, and its export to Asia, Europe, and the US can be counted as one of Japan's great "industrial" success stories.
This version has been revised but retains the best of the 1983 section. Following an introduction by Osamu Tezuka, Schodt delves into the history of manga in a section that covers a thousand years of Japanese pictorial history. This includes native traditions, foreign influence, the War years, and more. The text then moves onto chapters on types of manga: samurai, women-centric, business, erotic. The last two chapters feature a behind-the-scenes look at those who produce the manga, and then an essay on the future of manga. At the end of the book are samples from four titans of manga - Osamu Tezuka, Reiji Matsumoto, Riyoko Ikeda, and Keiji Nakazawa.
Excellent. A great, great read.
Draw Your Own Manga: All The Basics
by Haruno Nagatomo
In this book, a girl and her stuffed animal help us to explore the delightful world of manga. Interviews with Takao Yaguchi and Toru Fujisawa serve as inspiration. These two famous manga artists provide insight into their lives and work. This is followed by an in depth description of needed materials.
Drawing instructions begin in the second half of the book. Your first lesson begins with drawing the human body. Helpful illustrations about head-to-body ratio are included. After tackling correct body proportions you move on to drawing faces. Correct face proportions are discussed and diagrammed. Although manga uses exaggeration, the importance of knowing how to draw realistically is explained. This section is well done. When eyes and hair are examined you are given many examples and inspired to create your own unique manga character. Frustration may begin to rise as you begin working with special effects. One of my favorite chapters entitled "background" has some good tips on drawing perspective. Included are some helpful diagrams that review steps and the "Tips from a Pro" pages are particularly invaluable. My older students who enjoy drawing manga have been thrilled to read Nagatomo's instructions. For the artist looking to advance or possibly publish their manga this book is a good find.
Dragonball Graphic Novel 1
Story & Art by Akira Toriyama
In their mythic quest for the Dragon Balls, what adventures/troubles will Goku and Bulma have? One ball is owned by the Turtle Hermit, an old lecher - an old respected lecher - who is also a martial artist who is perfectly willing to sell the ball to the highest bidder. Another ball is held in a poor village, but to get their hands on it, they will have to save the village from Oolong, an awe-inspiring terror!
Having dispatched of (i.e., defeated) Oolong, the three are off for adventure in the desert. There they are attacked by Yamcha and his assistant Pu'ar, a pair of vicious bandits. The next ball is on the terrifying Frypan Mountain, which is guarded by the awesome Ox King and his vicious daughter Chi-chi. Are Goku and this motley crew up to the challenge?! Read and find out.
Well translated and beautifully drawn - by the great Akira Toriyama - this is a must have for manga fans.
Story & Art by Akira Toriyama
Akira Toriyama's epic, which is currently enjoying great popularity on the Cartoon Network, is now available in English in its original manga form - reading in "reverse" order. After years of training and adventure, Son Goku has become the world's greatest martial artist. He will face off against all sorts of devious and powerful aliens and villains and all around bad-guys. The fight over the fate of the globe has never been so precarious - and so much fun.
Son Goku is the greatest hero on Earth. Several years after defeating the arch-villain Piccolo, he is now married and has a child. At this point, a visitor from outer space arrives with the news that Goku himself is an alien, and that he is Goku's brother. When the visitor turns out to be a killer, Goku's only choice is to fight his fierce brother to save himself, his family and the entire human race. A wild plot twist at the end may be the only chance for success.
Akira: Vol. 1
Story & Art by Katsuhiro Otomo
This is a "cine-Manga treatment" of the 1988 anime classic, Akira. The film was adapted from Otomo's eponymous comic book series. The format "consists of animation cells cut up and arranged with word balloons in order to resemble comic book panels." The story takes place in 2019, and involves a group of young thugs set in a Blade Runner-like Tokyo (which in some ways wouldn't be all that disorienting for anyone in Tokyo circa 2004). The gang, which is led by Kaneda, becomes involved with a mysterious child with powerful psychic powers. The result is that they become entangled in the top-secret Akira project - which leaves the fate of the universe hanging in the balance.
Akira is a profound tale that combines spectacular visual effects and eternal and universal human emotions. For first time readers or long-time fans, this is an amazing adventure - and a wild trip into the imagination of Otomo-sensei.
Story & Art by Masamune Shirow
This is the first work by Ghost in the Shell author Masamune Shirow. The time is sometime in the future. It is a time when "the creation of life itself has evolved to include biodroids" and cyborg warriors that are programmed to kill. The power struggle between the above life-forms and humans could spell the end of life as it is known. However, the aptly named Typhon may just be the one with the power to stop them.
This is a must buy for any serious Shirow fan - or for those who want to discover one of the master's of Japanese manga.
The Official Pokemon Handbook
by Maria S. Barbo
This is the perfect gift for any young Pokemon fan. The book describes the background and concept of the Pokemon battle, and it presents descriptions of 150 characters. The language is simple and clear. It is the ideal reference book for children (or, perhaps even more so, for clueless parents trying to figure out what is SO obvious, Mom! to anyone under 10). Also, from an educational point of view, the pictures will help build memory. A great gift.
Flesh Colored Horror
by Junji Ito
Junji Ito's Flesh-Colored Horror is a collection of creepy tales based on people who, at first blush, seem utterly ordinary. These are stories of love, longing, beauty, and the perversities of nature. Not recommended for late-night reading (or, perhaps, that is exactly when Flesh Colored Horror should be read). Set in modern bourgeois Japan, the impact of the horror is all the more compelling couched as it is in normality. Absolute terror awaits. Nightmares in print.
Attack of the Black Flame (Ironfist Chinmi Kung Fu Boy)
by Takeshi Maekawa
This is the third in the "Ironfist" series. The series follows the growth of our hero, who hones his mental and physical and spiritual skills to defeat his more one-dimensional - i.e., all fist, no brains - enemies. The text is printed in Japanese cartoon style, which means it reads from back to front, with numbered boxes. (Once you get used to the format, you will probably find the numbering redundant; however, at the beginning, it is helpful.)
In this episode, Chinmi's sister, Mei Ling, writes him a letter, explaining that she's coming to visit him at the Dailin Temple. En route, however, she is abducted by a gang of punks called the Black Flame, who are led by Zangi, the cold-blooded master of Shockwave Kung Fu. To save his sister, Chinmi decides to challenge Zangi to a mano-o-mano duel to the death. How will he defeat Zanzgi. Can he defeat Zangi? Read on.
Battle Royale, Book 1
by Koshun Takami
This is the manga adaptation of the violent and controversial Japanese film by Beat Takeshi. Forty-two ninth graders set off on what they assume is a graduation camping trip. However, they have actually been shipped out to the deserted island of Okishima to serve as contestants on The Program, a state-sponsored reality tv show. The premise of the show is simple and horrifying: within three days only one student shall remain alive. On top of this, all of the students have high-tech collars implanted in their collars to monitor their vital signs. If no one has died in the first twenty-four hours, a bomb will be set off to kill them all. Each student gets a survival kit - and then takes off. The kids come from all types of backgrounds. The main character Suuya fights to stay alive and to protect the girl he likes; others go at it Lord of the Flies style. Human nature at its basest. Manga at its best.
Gravitation, Vol. 1
by Maki Murakami
Gravitation is a romantic comedy about a nae young man trying to make it in the music industry. Shuichi Shindo is determined to be a rock star. He has, however, a few small problems. He can't play, and, according to the book description: "has no experience, no talent, and no band." After finding a rock-star caliber guitarist and getting a gig, he is now set to show the world he has what it takes - and, in particular, that his lyrics are world class. At this point, however, a writer named Yuki Eiri hears the gibberish-like lyrics and excoriates him and the drivel he has produced. Shuichi can't get the vitriolic criticism out of his head and forces his way into Yuki's life - eventually falling in love with her. A wonderful tale with one caveat: the English translation is only fair.
Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story Vol 1
by Keiji Nakazawa
"Hadashi no Gen" (Barefoot Gen) is a Japanese comic book series about a boy who has survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The book begins as Japan is in the midst of the war. Gen is a normal, active boy who is more preoccupied with his own friends and life than that of the larger world around him. This world, however, is turned upside-down by the horror of what happens on a clear day in August 1945. Gen is a strong boy who manages to maintain his sense of humor in the face of the most trying situations. You will cheer along with him. Whatever your take on the use of the bomb, this is a compelling read. Barefoot Gen nearly brought a tear to the eye of this often cynical reviewer.
The Wonderful World of Sazae-san
by Machiko Hasegawa
> Kodansha International
Machiko Hasegawa was the author and artiste behind the most popular cartoon in modern Japanese history: Sazae-san. Her series was serialized in the Asahi Shinbun newspaper from 1949 until 1974. Kicking off in the dark and impoverished days following defeat in World War II, Sazae-san was a light and witty daily ray of sunshine for a Japan struggling to rebuild. In the course of its three decade run, it sold 62 million copies in book form; moreover, it has been made into radio programs and an animated television series.
Sazae-san is an upbeat if slightly ditzy woman. She lives with her utterly ordinary family who suffer her malapropisms and silly behavior with aplomb. This is a perfect place to take a peek into a typical if idealized Japanese family and neighborhood--with one slightly odd member. The book contains the original Japanese text along with an English translation, so this is a wonderful work for those studying Japan and its everyday customs.
by Machiko Hasegawa
Best known for her Sazae-san series, Machiko Hasegawa's Granny Mischief was in many ways a polar opposite to the cheerful Sazae-san. Debuting in 1966, Granny Mischief is a cartoon series about one tough little old woman. The image of a "grandmother" is in most cultures that of a smiling, comforting, forgiving, and giving figure. Hasegawa's Granny could not be more different. She is cruel and mischievous - in particular to her family, friends, neighbors, and even the odd stranger. Especially horrible (and deliciously funny) is her bullying of her daughter-in-law. This is a perennial and favorite theme in Japanese tv, film, stage - and real life. In one cartoon, Granny consoles and then helps a woman put up a poster advertising a 1,000 yen reward for the woman's missing cat, even going so far as to bring glue. In the next panel, the woman replaces the poster with another now offering 2,000 in reward money. In the last panel, though, we see Granny alone at home saying to a caged cat, "She'll go even higher." She appeals to that side in all of us that is dying to do this or that, but of course would never dream of actually carrying out. Granny however gleefully acts out the evil fantasies we all nurture. You will laugh along in recognition.
The book contains the original Japanese text along with an English translation, so this is a wonderful work for those studying Japan and its everyday customs.
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Books on Japan
Japan Manga Books I: Reviews of books on Japanese Manga and anime, including works by Osamu Tezuka, Junji Ito, Akira Toriyama and others.