Manga Friday: Plight of the Themeless
Here’s the manga I read this week (no, seriously, that’s the only thing they have in common) –
Kaze no Hana, Vol. 1
By Ushio Mizta and Akitoski Ohta
Yen Press, 2008, $10.99
Momoka Futami is just your normal teenaged manga heroine – an amnesiac orphan who’s coming to live with her unknown family four years after the mysterious death of her parents. Oh, and she learns that she’s the rightful wielder of one of eight ancient magical swords that are need to keep back various monsters that regularly pop into existence in this town.
Kaze no Hana has a lot of characters, and they’re all related to each other somehow, and most of them have magical swords, and…it just turned into a Russian novel in my head, with the added problem that I couldn’t even keep some of them straight visually. (This is mostly my problem; they don’t look identical, but they’re different in manga ways rather than Western ways, which means I can’t tell people apart unless they’re in the same panel and I can compare them directly.)
So, um, Kaze no Hana is complex and interesting, but it made my head hurt, OK? And I really don’t need that from a comic about the secret family of people that kill monsters – I can get secret families killing monsters in a dozen places without any headaches.
Your mileage may vary…
Tales from the Crypt, No. 1: Ghouls Gone Wild
Edited by Jim Salicrup
Papercutz, 2007, $7.95
Thomas Wolfe told us that we couldn’t go home again way back in 1940, but did we listen? No, we did not. Popular culture persists in trying to recapture the past, in particular to recreate the things we loved in our childhoods (or our imagined childhoods, or the childhoods of our parents, or some mythical perfect childhood of the past that never was). Sometimes good new art can come of it, but the impulse is only rarely a healthy one.
And that brings us to the new incarnation of Tales from the Crypt, which I should admit isn’t manga in any honest sense of the word. (The collection is manga-sized, though, which is how I’m shoehorning it in here. Hush, you in the back.)
Ghouls Gone Wild has four new short horror stories, in the EC Comics style (overwrought, overnarrated, over-everything), in which nasty people get their comeuppance in a style that isn’t quite as bloody as you’re expecting.
The first story is “Body of Work,” written by Marc Bilgrey with art by Mr. Exes. (And I’m afraid that is how the guy is credited. I’m doubly afraid that it’s meant to be pronounced “excess.” I weep for humanity.) A diner-owning married couple learn that their new reclusive neighbor is a rich and famous artist, who only paints graveyards and corpses. Being stupid and greedy, they decide to rob the artist…but don’t live to enjoy their taking. Exes has an interestingly dynamic art style, all spiky outlines, clenched teeth, and Little Orphan Annie eyes.
Next is “For Serious Collectors Only,” by Rob Vollmar and Tim Smith 3, which is about a young man who is particularly loserish – he lives with his mother, works bagging groceries, and obsesses about “action figures.” In the end, he gets it, too. Smith’s art is a bit more modern-comics standard, though the small page size forces him into a four-panel grid a lot of the time.
Next is a terribly creaky story, “The Tenant” by Neil Kleid and Steve Mannon. There’s this slumlord who drives around in a fancy car, sneers at his starving tenants, and is eventually sentenced by an activist judge to live in one of his own buildings for a month or “lose everything.” (The slumlord must have a horrible lawyer; that wouldn’t last a nanosecond in any appellate court.) The building the slumlord picks to live in is right next to a graveyard, and…you know what’s coming, right? Actually, he’s the one protagonist who doesn’t get snuffed.
Last is “Runway Roadkill” by Don McGregor and Sho Murase, which is a story about a nasty fashion designer who gets what’s coming to her. The art in this one is particularly good, with integrated 3D effects and color by Carlos Jose Guzman.
And that’s all wrapped up in the usual host segments, written by Papercutz Editor-in-Chief Jim Salicrup and drawn by Rick Parker. All of it is over the top, filled with puns and silly half-fake brand names…but that’s the point. It’s laughing horror rather than the modern cold kind, horror that says “guess what’s gonna happen to this creep!” I don’t know how many ten-year-old boys will find it – or be allowed to read it – but they will love it. So, in the end, the new Tales from the Crypt is a success on its own terms.
My Heavenly Hockey Club, Vol. 3
By Ai Morinaga
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $10.95
I reviewed the first volume of this series back in October, and loved it, so I came back for volume two in February. And now it’s time for #3.
To recap the set-up, Hana is a teenage slacker: all she really wants to do (and all that she’s really good at) is eat and sleep. But she ended up in her high school’s field hockey club when Izumi, the club president, ran into her with his car and demanded she work off the damage. (Manga are full of bizarre plot points like that, I’ve come to know; usually ones that center on reputation and embarrassment.) All of the other members of the club are cute boys (of various types) – My Heavenly Hockey Club is what’s known in the trade as a “reverse harem” story.
Anyway, there’s no hockey in this volume – the beginning story sees the club still on their summer trip from the last volume, and Hana gets lost in the wood with the club Vice President, Takashi. (He hates her, presumably due to some submerged longing for Izumi himself.) After that, still on vacation, the club heads off to a hot spring, finds it run-down, and somehow (this wasn’t entirely clear to me) ends up shanghaied into running the place for the benefit of a sudden surge of female customers.
The nice thing about that sequence is that it’s precisely like all of those boy-manga stories about drooling over half-naked girls slipping out of their kimonos and into hot springs…only with the sexes reversed. I imagine most of the comics audience – insecure pseudo-men in Wolverine T-shirts – are recoiling in horror at that image, but maybe if they realize that girls are human beings with likes and interests as well they’ll be able to actually get a girlfriend. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re all still recoiling in gay panic at some Alex Ross painting of an anatomically plausible man.
Anyway, back to Hockey Club. The last half of this book has Izumi’s cousin, Tamako Sato, come visit from England. She’s gorgeous, blonde, refined, and thinks Izumi is going to marry her. (She also is a magnet for ghosts, which causes some scenes that I couldn’t quite follow – I think Hockey Club draws from a good half-dozen manga traditions, which cam sometimes be opaque to Westerners.) Izumi insists Hana is his fiancée, introduces her to his parents, and tries to improve her manners.
This segment hits some of the usual clichés, but it also runs through some things that I think are Japanese clichés for that situation, but which aren’t as timeworn here. And Hana, as always, refuses to do anything strenuous or learn anything. “Do you cook?” someone asks – “I specialize in eating,” Hana replies. That’s a girl I can respect.
This volume isn’t as much wacky fun as the first two – or perhaps the wacky fun is more culturally Japanese, and so a bit opaque to me – and there are two scenes of people disrobing because of mind-altering drugs in the second half, which is a bit much. But, all in all, it’s still one of my favorite manga series.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly 20 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.
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