Manga Friday: Slight Return
This week the theme is “stuff I liked the first time around,” as I review the second volumes of four series that I enjoyed in volume one. For those who came in late, the reviews of the first volumes are here and here.
Mu Shi Shi, Vol. 2
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $12.95
Mu Shi Shi is still a quiet, atmospheric comic that feels steeped in folklore, even if most of its stories are completely invented. Since the background was explained in Volume 1, this time around we get five separate, freestanding stories.
Ginko wanders through the countryside of a Japan neither in this century nor any other, finding various mushi – tiny, primitive creatures that come in a bewildering array of forms and which often parasitize or otherwise harm humans – and helping the nearby humans to live with them, or just to survive.
In this volume, he meets another mushishi, who had made himself master of a mountain’s mushi, but is about to be overthrown. Then there’s a young woman cursed with hereditary mushi that she controls by writing them on scrolls, and a younger girl who dies and comes back to life every day to heal her local villagers. Ginko also helps a man searching for a rainbow, and a family with a cuckoo-ish mushi child.
Some of the stories here are as powerful as in Volume 1, especially the first and last. But I do wonder how long this series can be just about Ginko wandering around, with each story being discrete and separate. I hope Urushibara is building up to something – several characters look like they’re being set up for a return in a later story – because Mu Shi Shi is quite good as a series of individual stories, but could be great if there’s something to tie it all together.
My Heavenly Hockey Club, Vol. 2
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $10.95
The tales of the Grand Hockey club continue; Hana Suzuki and her boy-harem still prefer to laze around and eat rather than play hockey or do much of anything. The humor is still odd, and the book still also works as a tour of Japanese foodstuffs.
In the first story in Volume 2, the inevitable happens: the all-powerful student body government decides that the hockey club is a waste of space, and gives them a week to win a game. The club goes so far as to practice for almost the whole week, and schedules a game, but…things don’t end in any expected way.
The other three stories in this volume see the team travel for another game – they love to travel, to stay in nice hotels and eat a lot; that’s the real reason for the team – mostly because it’s in cherry-picking country. Then they realize that they’re getting fatter from all their eating and not exercising, so they try to join the judo club en masse. (They can’t practice hockey outdoors, of course – it’s winter, and too cold.) And the last story sees summer arrive, which means training camp. And training camp means jetting off to a private island to lie in hammocks for weeks on end.
There are a few incidental sex jokes – Hana and the head of the club, Izumi, are sort-of vaguely assumed to be a couple due to their shared love of sleep and the fact that they’re together so much of the time. But this series is mostly about avoiding work, eating good food, and sleeping late. And that’s something I can definitely get behind; My Heavenly Hockey Club is one of my favorite manga.
Alive, Vol. 2
Story by Tadashi Kawashima; Art by Adachitoka
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $10.95
In the first volume of Alive, an alien virus caused a week of suicides worldwide and the few people who got the virus but didn’t kill themselves became “comrades” – superhumans learning about their different powers, many of them convinced that they, and the rest of humanity, should have died. At the end of that book, comrade Yuichi Hirose kidnapped his schoolmate Megumi and set off north with her and two older “comrades,” after leaving his former best friend Taisuke Kanou unconscious.
Taisuke, of course, is also a comrade, though he hasn’t figured out what his power is yet. But he quickly heads north after the others. In any story like this, here is where the complications start up, so we start meeting other comrades, first a kid whom Taisuke befriends and then…someone more dangerous.
Alive is a smart, competent piece of genre fiction, close enough to the superhero genre to be very easy for American comics readers to pick up but different enough to have its own life and energy. It’s probably part of a huge genre in Japan – from my own small manga reading, it reminds me of both Akira and Mai the Psychic Girl – but this story is distinctive and individual enough to be compelling. (Though I could do without having two two-hundred page volumes in a row that end on cliffhangers.)
Parasyte, Vol. 2
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $12.95
Parasyte is another adventure manga series about alien invaders and strange powers, aimed at boys, but the metaphors in Parasyte are more blatant: these invaders eat humans’ heads and replace them. The parasites (who have no name for themselves, for all their intelligence) also can completely control their shapes, forming high-speed blades and other implements of destruction in a fraction of a second.
Shin is one of the few humans infected by a parasite but not supplanted by it; his parasite, Migi, couldn’t eat his head, and so took over his right arm. The two of them have formed an uneasy truce, driven partly by the fact that the parasites don’t like each other very much, either – they mostly attack each other on sight.
In this volume, Shin deals with bullies from another high school – it’s always fun to see publishers who completely understand their target audience – and then a much more dangerous threat in his own family. This book is also longer than most manga at just about three hundred pages (most of which is taken up by that second storyline).
The underlying story is about Shin’s humanity – how much is Migi influencing him, and what is he changing into as he battles the other parasites? (He’s not trying to save the world, as he would in the American version of this story – he’s just trying to get on with his life, and alien monsters drop into that life every so often.) I wonder how long that can be strung out, but I’ll be back for the next volume to see if Shin is still a human or has become a monster himself.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.