Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tegami Bachi Volume 2 by Hiroyuki Asada

The first 20 pages....pretty difficult to read. I don't mean they were incomprehensible, I mean it challenged my patience because it was so damn boring. It didn't get interesting until Lag Seeing finally made it to the Bee Hive to do his interview. The kid is 12 and really wants to become a postal worker which in this messed up universe is known as a "letter B". (I already poked fun of this when I wrote about the first volume so I'm just going to accept it and move on.)

Lag has to under-go a test which involved simply delivering a letter. He is pitted against a few other candidates, one of which is older and makes his way to the destination ahead of Lag. This is simply due to the fact that he leaves Lag to deal with the obstacles along the way. The obstacles are the Gaichuu, giant insect monsters. In the end, Lag gets his letter delivered but not without it being full of mud and water. The test observer passes his judgement and Lag learns some shocking new about his idol Gauche.

All in all, I believe that the translation is partly to blame for some of the more boring and lack luster moments. Either some of the comedic panels are miss-translated  or the original writer just isn't funny. However, I feel as though it is a translation problem which is often the case in Japanese to English due to cultural idioms. (Hopefully I can say 'cultural idioms' although, is that redundant? Are idioms not inherently cultural?) I'm not the first or last person to complain about these types of translation problems and although translations have significantly improved over the last 10 years, this sort of misinterpretation of cultural idioms remains an issue.

I probably will grab volume 3 despite the boring intro to volume 2. I suspect things may get more interesting. For instance what's with that head Letter Bee?? Don't you think he's kinda sinister?? I kinda do want to see what happened to Gauche.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Psyren Volume 5 by Toshiaki Iwashio

We left our Psyren Wastelanders in the wasteland. They stumbled into a bunker and found a videotape explaining a piece of the puzzle that holds the key to the future. On the video they see the children from Grandma's school, completely destroyed. They were supposed to save the world, but they were murdered by a memeber of W.I.S.E.

My heart wasn't really in Psyren today. I found it quite bland in comparison to the last volume. The best part was the ending. Suddenly we meet a large group of members from W.I.S.E. (That super-human elite group that seems to control the future. We really don't know more than that.) Four characters are briefly introduced at the very end. Like other popular Shonen Jump manga, it appears Psyren is turning into a different sort of book. Kind of like how Bleach turns from one which takes place in present day Japan and then becomes solely a story in the land of the dead (or dead-ish).

I hope things pick up in volume 6. I am interested to see if the new story arc with the members of W.I.S.E. ends up developing characters are who are not wholly evil but identifiable. I'm also interested to see if Iwashiro can grab my attention in the same way he did with volume 1.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron by Daniel Clowes

There are not any redeeming characters in Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. In fact, the whole book is told a way which makes it depressing and terrifying. It's like a schizophrenic dream. I assume that the lead character Clay, is simply living his life in a confused delusion. Although he never seems to completely question his surroundings, he looks out-right confused initially, then just accepts it and moves on.

Clowes really doesn't glamorize sex. If anything, he makes it look as unattractive and grotesque as possible. All displays of sexual intimacy have left out the intimacy part and become merely a ritual of necessity in which both who part-take feel nothing but self-loathing at it ends. The book starts out with Clay sitting in a triple X movie theater watching a film called "Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron". The entire novel is littered with fetishist, sexual references and scenes. Additionally, characters are deformed or suffering from fictitious and wild illnesses. Mostly, the whole book is just disturbing.

This is one of the most confusing stories I've ever read by Clowes considering it is completely unrealistic. Like I said, it's how I envision schizophrenia to be - confusion, paranoia and acceptance of the unreal. Although, I really don't know much about schizophrenia, this is all based on ignorant assumptions. Sorry.

Tina, a deformed diner employee with the hots for Clay.

I think I can safely say I wasn't blown away by this book. It has a pointlessness to it that I don't care for. The only point I got, was that the book leaves you feeling as empty as Clay. Poor Clay, things don't end well for him.

Akira Volume 1 by Katsuhiro Otomo

I've been wanting to read Akira since I saw the movie over 15 years ago. Reason I haven't? Cause it's too damn expensive and I'm just a poor tech writer & student. I recently noticed it at the local library and was like "DONE"! So I picked it up and this morning, I simply could not put it down. Now I gotta go grab Volume 2.

For those of you who don't know, Akira is an epic cyber punk manga that was turned into an animated motion picture in the 80's. It has had a special place in my heart since I first saw it as a teenager. It was my first experience with cyber punk, my favorite genre. I never totally understood the movie completely as a lot of the actual plot and background is told in the manga, which I'm only now reading. What I understood were the basics. A biker gang member getting involved accidentally in a government experiment to create psycho-kinetic humans. There was once a giant explosion and a child named Akira is at the root of the cause. As far as I can tell, the child possessed enormous power, cultivated by the government and his power became uncontrollable. Lead character Tetsuo now exhibits the same signs as his power awakens. Volume one merely introduces the situation and shows the first changes in Tetsuo as his childhood friend Kaneda struggles to contain, help or destroy him.

The artwork is outstanding. Neo-Tokyo is a re-built city which Otomo illustrates by showing every crack, flaw and desecration in his panels. It truly is a cyber punk metropolis. I am in love. I think I would thrive in this sort of environment ! Although you know, I am just living in my own little fantasy of who I think I would be in a post-disaster world. Can't wait to read more.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope

Another one from Paul Pope. Heavy Liquid was a 5 issue limited series that ran on Vertigo from 1999-2000. Cyber punk awesomeness. If I was to die and come back in the future, it better be all cyber punk as hell. I mean, I'm punk as fuck (regardless of holding down a career while being a student. Who says it isn't punk to have ambition).

The story centers around a character known as 'S' who is hired to locate a famous metal caster who has gone into hiding. It just so happens that 'S' was once romantically involved with this famous artist. That's half the fun. His commissioners wish to have the ultimate piece of art created by the artist known as Rodan Esperella. The key is that they want the sculpture created with a specific material known as this Heavy Liquid. A highly corrosive and unstable liquid metal that when cooked the right way, can also be used as an enhancement drug. It's all very mysterious but it gets solved at the very end of the book.
Heavy Liquid is full of all sorts of crazy images as well as some beautiful scenery panels. I've always appreciated artists who take great care and detail in their backgrounds. I also have a great appreciation for  character-less panels. They are designed to suck you right into the story. I wanna be sucked in. Half the time, I don't ever want to come out. I just love escapism, but we all know that. I seem to recall this long conversation I had with someone, sometime ago where I was being criticized for my love of escapism. I suspect I know who was criticizing me for my escapist reading. This coming from someone who smoked up 24/7. Some loser I shacked up with.. like half the losers I've shacked up with. Wait, that sentence isn't accurate- I mean to say 'losers who shacked up with me'. I'm the only one who paid the rent. Anyway, fuck 'em.  Escapism is awesome! As someone who isn't terribly unhappy in general, I still need to escape into an awesome cyber punk fantasy once in a while! 

At first I didn't think I was going to like this book as much as I enjoyed 100%. As sometimes happens however, I was wrong. I really enjoyed reading this book and you know what? You will too. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Barefoot Gen : A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa

In keeping with my goal of reading classic comics, I figured it was time to read Barefoot Gen and cringe every 2 pages at the horrific reality that was 1940's Japan. Barefoot Gen is an autobiographical account of a young boy named Gen and his large, impoverished family. It details the tremendous injustices inflicted on the people of Japan during the war and the ultimate destruction and bombing of Hiroshima.

Gen and his family struggle not to go hungry as officials and ring leaders snatch every ounce of nourishment for the military (and most likely themselves). There is a harrowing scene where sweet potatoes are the cause of much celebration. Gen and his brother Shinji, run behind their father's cart of sweet potatoes singing and jumping at the fact that they will not starve this month. Unfortunately a police officer confiscates the vegetables, but not without violence. There is a lot of abuse in this book. The parents regularly hit their children. Teachers, police, and other people in positions of authority regularly hit, or humiliate this children. It is known in the beginning that Gen's father opposes the war and the whole neighborhood knows it. The entire family is called traitor and tormented by their neighbors. It doesn't keep Gen down however, and his whole family works together to prevail over the harsh circumstances.

Although most people report that they end up crying while reading Barefoot Gen, I'd like to report that I was too disturbed to cry. The violence, abuse and horrors inflicted on the people of Japan during the war is told in such frank honesty that I just feel plain disturbed. Despite the parts that shook me, I found pieces that were completely heartwarming. Gen and Shinji try their best to help out their family. They look out for each other and the author creates huge family displays of affection where the parents hug the children and thanking them for being so wonderful.

Maybe the book is difficult to swallow. A lot of the violence directed at the children is drawn in a comedic fashion. Almost as if you are watching bugs bunny or reading one of Osamu Tezuka's comedies. In the back of your mind however, you know that this was really happening and it's certainly not funny. So i that right, prepare to be shocked and bothered.

There are 10 books in the series and this is only the first. I can only imagine what other horrors Gen faces down the road.  This volume ends with the bombing of Hiroshima which I had read some years ago online. Read it...you cannot help but be moved.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

100% by Paul Pope

"My Grandma's right! No one worth know'n is out past midnight" terrific line really and not something I haven't heard before but in the back alley's of the inner city.. well it's some advice one should take! Especially in Paul Pope novel. This book is not for children and not for the faint. It's deep and pulls apart one thing we all have something to say about: sex. It's dissecting the experience, explaining the evolution of modern sexual culture and where it may take us. It's not enough to want to see some skin.. it's what's inside. Paul Pope says this by a girl (known as Dollar Bill or Daisy, depending on who you know) losing her diary and the words inside which she so desperately wishes to keep all to herself. Pope says this by showing the same girl expose her insides in another way. It's all so covert. At first I thought she was going to do something with xrays then she lights herself on fire - firejacket. I'm getting a lot of inspiration from this book. Things are breaking loose in my writers mind. Things that have been dead lately. I got the virus.

So communication in this book is called "threading". It's like texting only it does more than texting. Illusions, as far as I can tell. There is an interesting 4D date with John and Daisy. John, has got to be my favorite male character involved in a romantic situation. It's been a long time since I've really like a male character in a book because typically, main male characters tend to be of low character. John is honest, polite and considerate- to a fault really. He places importance on Daisy who is ultimately selfish while being self destructive. Daisy seems to think she's a biological device, not a sentient being with emotions. She boils everything down to biology.

100% issues ran from 2002 -2003 on Vertigo and it's the second Paul Pope trade paper I have read. It's pretty much cyber punk which suits me since I've been writing a cyber punk novel for about 2 years now. My favorite cyber punk novel, in case you are wondering, is Vurt. Read that man...soooo good.

Best quote of 100%

"Why not use the devil's shovel to build a mountain instead?"

Side note : Have you ever seen a picture of Paul Pope? God damn that's one hot comic book artist.

Paul Pope 2010

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tegami Bachi - Letter Bee Volume 1 by Hiroyuki Asada

Some distant planet or a future Earth full of mutations and a man-made sun? That is correct. There is a man-made star above the capital city in this wasteland of a planet. All I know is that the area is known as AmberGround. I'm unclear what planet this story takes place on, but I doubt it's all that important. This is definitely a fantasy/sci-fi manga. The artwork is beautiful although I have a hard time believing our introductory lead character and post-man Gauche, is actually 18. He looks 5 despite being tall.

The story starts with Gauche who claims he's a letter carrier which in this society are known as Letter Bee's. Leave it to the Japanese to go silly over a play on Roman characters. The letter carriers in AmberGround carry pieces of peoples hearts to their destination along with the letters or in some cases A SINGAL letter written on a piece of paper. Sometimes they are entrusted with delivering whole people which is what happens to Gauche. He is immediately charged with delivering Lag Seeing (awful name truly) to a distant district which happens to be impoverished. It is through this life changing event that Lag realizes he wants to become a Letter Bee as well. The manga skips to 3 years in the future post child-delivery. I believe that makes Lag 14? He is now enrolled as a Letter Bee in training and still without his Dingo (that being a companion of any species although normally of canine decent). Coincidentally, Lag too is entrusted with the delivery of a human being although she is not all she appears to be.

Letter Bee has been turned into 2 seasons of anime. I won't watch it most likely. Again, I'd rather read than watch. No subtitles don't count. I will most likely order the next volume because it's pretty and the story line isn't that lame. There are giant hollow armored bugs. That's fun. I like crazy monsters. Why? I dunno.. gee do I need to know the answer to everything??

Okay, I don't want to give away the surprise about Lag's human letter. So I won't. Just read it. I actually enjoyed this Shonen Jump manga. It was really cute, pretty and imaginative.

Ex Machina Volume 2 by Brian K Vaughan

I'm a big fan. Let's just start with that. Mr. Hundred is a great character. "I'm not a conservative or a liberal. I'm a realist." That is how Mr. Hundred describes his political standing. As mayor of New York City, Hundred decides to tackle the issue of same sex marriage. Point - he's going to marry a male couple in front of the entire city. This spurs assassination attempts, and deep loathing from religious groups. Meanwhile, strange green glowing graffiti is popping up all over the city and driving people to suicide, homicide and plain old madness. Things are starting to get interesting. We are starting to understand the nature of this bizarre symbol and it's mysterious power. Super sci-fi things happening? I suspect! Aliens? Secret government conspiracy?? How about time travel?  Well maybe not that last one although the story jumps over a 3 year period. Back and forth, unraveling more of the story behind Mr. Hundred and his strange ability to talk to machines! So exciting!

This is written by Vaughan so you know he's as usual tackling all manner of issues regarding universal equality. Lots of sarcastic remarks thrown around and a good balance of female and male characters. Although I dare say there are more male characters in this book than in comparison to Y The Last Man ;) I know, I'm a smart ass.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Naruto Volume 1 by Masashi Kishimoto

I've seen all of the first Naruto series. Yeah I know I don't watch anime anymore but I use to. I was a huge Naruto fan back when it first aired... I was probably 20? 21? Don't mock me! Animation is a wonderful thing. I just don't tend to watch much anime due to it ruining my favorite manga for the most part. Let's move on.

I love Naruto and as far as I know, the anime followed the manga very closely in story-line aside from a few divergent episodes while trying to draw out the series. FILLER.

Okay for those of you who are unfamiliar, Naruto follows the story of a capricious, young ninja student who has entombed in his body, the demon soul of a nine tail fox. Phew, that was a mouthful! (That's what he said)

Naruto is orphaned, and scorned by his village considering an powerful demon that killed off much of the village, is trapped somewhere inside of his body. It was imprisoned by the mighty Fourth Hokage (the leader of the Hidden Leaf Village). Naruto, is a bit of a troublemaker but full of hope and empathy. His goal beyond helping others which comes naturally, is to one day become the most powerful Shinobe in the village and claim the title Hokage for himself. Well, he's only about 12-13 right now. He's ambitious for certain but contains a great amount of self-assurance and confidence. What a great character for young people! I'm always recommending Naruto to people with children.

I get to hate on Sakura, Naruto's love interest. Sakura wants Saske though. Me? I can't stand Sakura for the most part. She's a pretty terrible and selfish person. There are some great scenes later in the story where she gets served though. Listen to me hating on a 13 year old fictional character. I need more of a life.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Book of Human Insects by Osamu Tezuka

I know what you're thinking, "Another Tezuka book?!" Come now, Tezuka's catalog of manga is massive! You didn't really think I was about to just quit on it did you? Some day I will have read everything! Although that is proving difficult since it appears that only a couple of the Phoenix series books are even available currently. Now there's a series I really want to finish!

The Book of Human Insects is actually a book about a book. At least, that is how it starts out. The title gets it's name from the lovely and conniving main character Toshiko Tomura, who through plagiarism of a college roommate, publishes a book called The Book of Human Insects. She receives renown and a prestigious award for her efforts. The scandal just so happens to be completely covered up. It turns out our lady of mimicry has made a long and extensive career of stealing the talents of others. If they happen to give her any grief over it, they are suddenly meet with an untimely demise.

This is a sort of black widow story although, less about marrying a bunch of men and killing them for profit. She gains her success in other ways- by killing off the dreams and goals of others while   stealing their life's work and ambition. She gains success through imitation in the fields of graphic design, acting, directing, writing and finally photography.

This book is intended for a mature audience. As with much of Tezuka's work, there are violent and sexual themes compounded with exploitation. However, it serves the story. It should be mentioned that this is a dramatic thriller and not a comedic piece in any right.

There has been some criticism towards this book regarding misogyny and I'm not altogether sure it's unfounded. I tend to shrink back from anything that is "black widow - like" in books or film. Yet, I sometimes wonder if that is simply because it can be difficult to create a masterful female villain without painting yourself as a misogynist. It's something to think about for certain. I would like to state, that if there are other female characters of creditable merit written into the story, that it would stand to reason misogyny should not be an accusation directed at the author. In the case of The Book of Human Insects Tezuka has worked in other female characters but it does twist in my gut that they are somewhat submissive and demure. Tezuka generally writes a decent female character. Considering the time periods in which he writes, I feel as though he is only portraying the realistic and factual subjugation of women at that time. You can disagree if you want to but honestly, I don't see any overwhelming sense of misogyny there. Feel free to read the book and counter my opinion. It'd be fun.

Alternate Japanese Cover I Found Just For You!
In short, I really enjoyed reading this book. It takes place sometime in the early 70's. Women still were not credited with doing a whole lot (especially in Japan). You can imagine how a beautiful young lady with a gift for metamorphosis can direct all the spotlight at the time. Talented and attractive. But let's be sure, she's damaged and hysterically, happens to be a bit of an infantilist. The story ends well I think but on a somber note where Toshiko states "I'm so lonely". I guess it is lonely at the top.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts by Paul Pope

A good friend of mine recently interviewed Paul Pope (and has yet to let me see the outcome I might add) so I decided I had to read some. I only previously had seen some Batman stuff come from Pope. Knowing that he had his own stories printed, I thought it was a good time to look into them. I think this particular book was a good starting point as a crash course on Pope's work. I literally picked this book up after work, read it front to back and decided to write a blog post.

This hardcover book collects The One Trick Rip-Off and a series of short stories under the title Deep Cuts. This collection highlights Pope's artistic flexibility while displaying the distinct story-telling style that I can only express by using his name. Pope's work is a mash-up of violence, drama and romance. Even the stories that don't involve an actual romantic coupling, are told ...well, with the old meaning of romance. Words in cursive and often in verse seem to melt into the artwork, completing the panels.

The first story The One Trick Rip-Off (1995-1996)  had me hooked and I was immediately upset when it was over. I wanted more. Violent grifter/gangsters, head-over heels lovers trying to make a new start away from crime and their pasts. There is some strange sci-fi stuff going on as characters push their wills on one another to achieve their goals. Some supernatural ability that goes unexplained. It reminded me a bit of Push.

Another favorite was in Deep Cuts -Tokyo (1998). More gangsters! Did I mention that I really like gangster/mob stories? Organized crime.. yeah I kinda have a thing for those types of stories. Of course the other stories aren't all gangster and range from little pieces of lives. One about about Pope himself meeting a man named Yes. One about some troublesome teenage girls. Some of the stories are completely devoid of narration or dialogue and exist as a story in pictures alone.

One thing I can definitely say is that I will be reading more from Mr. Paul Pope while bother Matthew about the interview. He really should just post it up here!

YuYu Hakusho Volume 1 by Yoshihiro Togashi

YuYu Hakusho Translates into "Ghost Files" or "Poltergiest Report". The story follows a 14 year old boy Yusuke Urameshi as he waits in limbo after a car accident which kills him. He is immediately visited by Botan, Guide to the Underworld. She tells him that his death was not planned by the powers that be and was also completely senseless. Urameshi died trying to save a child from being hit by a vehicle. It turns out the child would have been completely unharmed, had Urameshi left the situation to fate. Instead, the boy gets a bit scraped up and Urameshi is struck by the car. Botan explains however, that sometimes these things happen and in this case, no room has been made in either Heaven or Hell for the delinquent Urameshi. So he may choose to be brought back to life, should he pass a certain test.

All this is quite humorous. Award winning author Yoshihiro Togashi tells the story without taking things all too seriously and allows us to warm up Urameshi who everyone sees as a trouble maker. I like a good trouble maker. The issue is, Urameshi isn't much of one. He gets a bad rep for fighting at school and smoking. At the same time, he goes out of his way to help others but no one sees that side of him. The only friend he has is Keiko! She's horribly distraught by the boys death considering the last thing she said to him was a suggestion that he go die. Urameshi only has two days to make contact with her. He has to a) save his own body from the crematory and b) let Keiko know that he is alright and will come back to life. He makes contact via dreams and the body of another school mate who although un-liked and creepy, seems to have a sort of sixth sense. Again, all this is done in a most dis-serious light.

Completely ridiculous and the author isn't hiding this fact. Actually, it's all kind of adorable. Why the hell not? Since author Togashi was awarded with the esteemed Tezuka Award in his 20's. YuYu Hakusho itself, is one of Shonen Jump's best selling series of all time and later turned into an anime which of course, I won't bother watching. I just don't like to watch anime nearly as much as I enjoy reading manga and I'm more often than not, unhappy with the translation to screen. The original manga series ran from October 1992 to December 1994.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Psyren Volume 4 by Toshiaki Iwashiro

Finally we learn a little about Psyren and the future of Japan. It's all because of a meteorite...wait what? How is that possible? Apparently in 2009 a small meteorite crash landed in Tokyo and some secret operation nabbed it with a van. That's all we know. How did we get this information? The group was resent to Psyren and well there's this bomb shelter full of old newspapers from 2009. I kinda hate when stories include dates of a not-at-all distant future cause damn, 2009 was a while ago... it was back in 2009. It kinda ruins the story for me when you tell me the world is going to end - 4 years ago. I'm all for apocalypse and the destruction of our world but seriously, make it the distant future so I can cling to the dream as if it were real.

Wow that all came off a little morbid. I kid really. I don't actually care if the world ends. Kidding! Anyway, this volume of Psyren introduced a whole slew of new characters. Psionic children! (Band name?) These kids were pretty much abandoned by their parents because of their crazy, uncontrollable, psionic powers. Eye roll. They all live in this mansion with a creepy-old midget lady who makes everyone call her Grandmother. She basically went all professor X and says she's attempting to train these children to use their psionic powers to help fight the future destruction of Japan.

I find it really interesting that this book only talks about the destruction of Japan. I really have no idea if the rest of the world is a Psyren wasteland in the future or if Japan is oddly the only place afflicted. It's almost as if the only dry land on planet Earth is Japan, according to this author. Still, I like to think in this case that Japan was the only country affected since the rest of the world pretty much doesn't exist in this book.

One final note, I still like the artwork but man, the scripting. I know it's a translation but Iwashiro just isn't funny. His jokes are terrible and I don't find the visual "comedy" (if you can call it that) appealing at all. After reading something like Yatsubo! which has amazing visual comedy with awesome facial expression on all the characters, stuff like Psyren can be pretty disappointing.