Manga Friday: As Different As Possible
I’ve generally tried to organize the weekly columns around some sort of theme, but sometimes themes just serve to hide the variety and depth of the comics world (whatever country it might be from). So, this week, I picked three books with nothing at all in common (except a Japanese origin), just because:
Nightmares for Sale, Vol. 1
By Kaoru Ohashi
Aurora, November 2007, $10.95
Nightmares for Sale is an old-fashioned kind of horror story, with two enigmatic characters – they appear to be a grown man (Shadow) and a young girl (Maria), but she’s older than he is – who run a store that’s usually a pawnshop. Nothing at all good can happen when they enter your life, though they usually don’t seem to be directly responsible.
Each story in this volume has a different set of characters – usually teenage girls, or the kind of adults that teenage girls want to become – who meet the pawnshop owners, and then come to nasty ends. A bullied girl triggers a curse on the friendship rings her tormentors made her buy for all of them, and nastiness follows. A model wants to appear beautiful in photographs, and gets exactly what she asked for…but no more and no less. A young woman meets an abused boy in the street, and learns that their connection is much deeper than she imagined. A young boy tries to pawn his baby sister. And so on.
There’s a slight element of morality tale to these stories, but not much – they’re kind of horror stories in which horrible things happen to people just because they’re there. Shadow and Maria don’t seem to cause the horrors so much as witness them, or maybe just unleash them.
These aren’t great horror stories, but they’re solidly good – we’ve all seen things like this many times before, but Ohashi tells these tales as they’re supposed to be told, with a slightly mocking tone and Shadow and Maria to provide the sense of superiority. If you like stories about nasty things happening to schoolgirls, Nightmares for Sale is for you.
Sola, Vol. 1
Art by Chaco Abeno; Story by Naoki Hisaya; Character Design by Naru Nanao
Broccoli, June 2008, $10.99
This is based on an anime series of the same name, which I haven’t seen. (And didn’t even know about until I read the book.) Matsuri appears to be a teenage girl, but is actually a 350-year-old yaka (something like a vampire, only without anything to do with blood). She can only go out at night or under heavy cloud cover, she was changed into her current form ages ago and will never get older, she’s strong and heals quickly and can fly.
She meets a teenage boy, Yorito, who likes to take pictures of the sky. (Japanese teenagers have the most boring hobbies in the entire universe. I expect to see a manga set in the watching-paint-dry club of a high school any day now.) His parents are dead and his older sister, Aono, is stuck in a hospital with an unspecified ailment – if I had to guess, I’d say she had Ali McGraw’s Disease — and so Yorito is all alone.
There’s also a team of assassins – dart-throwing Takeshi and the little girl yaka Mayuko – who are trying to kill Matsuri as part of a plan to make Mayuko human again. Matsuri would prefer not to die, so she fights them a couple of times, and Yorito helps however he can. And, by the end of the book, there’s another yaka around, which will complicate things for the next volume.
The thriller plot, though, only pops out every now and then, even though it seems to be the spine of the story. Sola is mostly about Matsuri and Yorito; he’s falling in love with her and she’s teasing him. And they’re also having long, strange conversations about the sky. I don’t really know where this is going, but it’s at least different from all of the other ancient-people-with-superpowers-trying-to-kill-each-other manga.
S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers Room, Vol. 1
By Negi Banno
Yen Press, August 2008, $9.99
S.S. Astro has a title that confuses me; the subtitle is descriptive and makes sense, but I have absolutely no idea what the main title has to do with anything. (“S.S.” always makes me think of a ship, but that’s the wrong line of thought here – though I don’t know what the right one is.)
It’s a four-panel series about four young female teachers who are all working (mostly as homeroom teachers) at Tokyo’s Asashio Integrated Public High School. For me, it was a breath of fresh air, since the actual students of this school are backgrounded or ignored completely. (It can sometimes be hard to find a manga that isn’t mostly about fourteen-year-olds.)
The main character is Izumi Maki, a brand-new phys ed teacher who is an immense tomboy and always falling asleep. The other major characters are Yuko Nagumo, the Japanese teacher who always wears traditional dress and who eats massive stacks of bento-box lunches without gaining weight; Setsuna Arai, the cold nursing teacher (more like a school nurse, but not exactly) who loves gaming; and Kaname Karasuma, the slightly older foreign language teacher who has a crush on Izumi.
I’m afraid I didn’t get as much out of S.S. Astro as I would have liked; the jokes are subtle and based on Japanese culture, and I still sometimes have trouble telling characters apart. (I found myself continually reminding myself of which one of those four had square glasses, for example.) From what I can tell, S.S. Astro is genuinely funny, and it’s definitely fun – but this is a series for people who already know a lot about Japanese culture and can pick up references effortlessly.
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.