Manga Friday: Games & Doctors & Sex
It’s getting harder and harder to find books for this column that go together in any meaningful way. And how do I deal with that problem? Why, by utterly ignoring the problem and throwing together whatever books happen to be lying around. Here, I’ll show you how that works…
Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning, Vol. 5
Story by Kyo Shirodaira; Art by Eita Mizuno
Yen Press, October 2008, $10.99
For the long version of the backstory of this series, see my earlier reviews of Vol. 4, Vol. 3, and Vol. 2.
The short version: there are “Blade Children” – teenagers who were abducted and had a rib removed (and probably had other things done to them, starting with psychological conditioning), and who form some kind of secret society. And there’s a teenage boy who is almost always called “Little Brother” – by people who are not, in any way, related to him, and because his now-vanished older brother was a genius, special and wonderful and better than his little brother ever could be in every way imaginable – who keeps getting caught up in their convoluted schemes, which generally involve logical puzzles, death traps, and lots of posturing about who is smarter than whom.
At this point, it’s becoming clear that the Blade Children have serious divisions in their ranks, since one group of BCs is sending an assassin against the local Japanese BCs that we’ve been watching torment – and be defeated by – Little Brother repeatedly over the last few books. (Of course, as is typical in modern manga for teenagers, everyone who matters in the entire world is a teenager.)
This volume extends the world, introducing two new important characters. One is Ryouko Takamachi, a sporty girl and secret Blade Child, who gets recruited by Eyes Rutherford – the dreamy concert pianist/international assassin with one of the silliest names in fiction – via a very long, psychologically intense game of dodgeball. (When it comes to tension and portentousness, Spiral never believes in simply doing what it can overdo.)
The other is Kanon Hilbert, childhood friend of Eyes, who is the assassin I alluded to above. He’s working for some other, previously unseen faction of the Blade Children, even though the aims of the BCs that we’ve been watching for five volumes now still don’t make much sense.
I suspect writer Shirodaira is much more interested in constructing complicated game-theory puzzles than in the larger plot, and it shows. But, if you like head games and overcomplication, Spiral is just right for you.
Black Jack, Vol. 2
By Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, November 2008, $16.95
This is the second of seventeen volumes planned to reprint Tezuka’s – Japan’s godfather of manga; creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion – most popular series for adults, in which a scarred, unlicensed genius surgeon stalks around the world, saving lives and making giant piles of cash as he does so. (I reviewed the first one a few months ago.)
This volume has fourteen stories, mostly around twenty pages each. They’re energetic and move quickly, relying on coincidences, supposedly surprising reversals and Tezuka’s usual deft hand at caricatures. (He’s amazingly willing to have essentially “realistic” characters in the same scene with dwarfish troglodytes sporting facial features larger than any of their limbs – and his style makes them all work together in the same scene.)
Black Jack, as always, can do nearly anything – he bandages up and befriends a killer whale in one story (repeatedly), and performs an operation in total darkness in another. He’s the epitome of the manga character (and the type is not unknown in Western comics, either) who has studied one thing so much that his abilities are nearly limitless.
For comic relief, there’s Jack’s ward, Pinoko – who is either eighteen or one year old, depending on how you look at it. (She was the parasitic twin of one of the patients in the first book; Jack, in his usual casually omnipotent manner, built an entire functioning prosthetic body around her few functioning organs. So she’s been alive for eighteen years, but has only had a separate, conscious existence for about a year.) She’s tiny and cute, and lisps all of the time. And she also insists that Jack is her husband, which could be creepy if one didn’t remember that a) she’s mostly plastic to begin with and b) she can’t be taken the slightest bit seriously.
Black Jack is quite pulpy, and a lot of fun on that level. It’s middlebrow entertainment with some obvious lessons – don’t be greedy, protect the Earth’s ecology, always pay your debts and honor your family – thrown in for didactic spice. There are more ambitious Tezuka works, but Black Jack shows him working right in the mainstream of the popular manga of his day, and it’s plenty entertaining.
Sounds of Love, Vol. 1
By Rin Tanaka
Aurora/Luv Luv, November 2008, $10.95
Last this week is a sexy “redikomi” – a heterosexual romance comic with mildly explicit sex aimed at young Japanese women. One of the few houses to translate redikomi for American audiences – as opposed to the vastly more popular yaoi, love stories about gay men for a female audience – is Aurora, through their Luv Luv imprint.
Sounds of Love is billed as the first volume in a series – and it might well be that – but it’s also made up of four essentially independent stories about the same romantic couple, and then two separate stories with their own casts. All are in the same vein: the young woman (who is invariably the viewpoint character) is utterly devoted to her big, strong (but gorgeous and caring) boyfriend, and overcomes her shyness to help him out in his career.
The four linked stories follow Kyochiro, a rising young Japanese classical pianist known for his romantic style and scores of (mostly female) fans. His girlfriend and manager is Kazune, who gave up her own dreams of being a professional pianist to support Kyochiro and because she didn’t think she was good enough. She’s continually worries about whether she’s good enough for Kyochiro, and the conflict in every story is about her fears – and is resolved by having Kyochiro screw the heck out of her (in a loving way, with lots of foreplay), sometimes even backstage after a show.
The other two stories are about different characters in different situations, but they’re pretty similar – the men are strong and ultimately always loyal, while the girls (and they are girls) are quiet and overwhelmed by their own love and helplessness. It’s a formula, certainly, but Tanaka rings changes on it in each story.
Sounds of Love does have semi-explicit sex, so it’s not for many audiences. And it’s probably too girly for a lot of the readers looking for comics with semi-explicit sex on this side of the Pacific. But the women who read hot romance novels – and a certain number of men who don’t mind the awfully stereotyped heroines with eyes bigger than their thighs – will find much to enjoy here.
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 should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.