MELINDA: Well, hello there, colleague! I’m still really enjoying that.
MICHELLE: Why, hello! Fancy meeting you here.
MELINDA: What a lovely space we have here. Makes me feel like talking about books. And you?
MICHELLE: Now that you mention it, I am experiencing an odd tingle, so I’m going to take that as an invitation to begin! My reads this week provoked wildly different reactions in me. One was epic and impressive while the other was icky and confusing. Saving the best for last, I shall begin with the latter.
I didn’t have very high hopes for Amnesia Labyrinth, the two-volume (so far) series released this year by Seven Seas, but it is a mystery manga penned by Nagaru Tanigawa, the man behind the Haruhi Suzumiya light novels, so I at least expected to derive a modicum of enjoyment from it. Alas, while the first volume is merely not very good the second is downright craptacular.
The story begins promisingly enough. Readers witness the murder of a high school student who turns out to be the class president of the school our protagonist, Souji Kushiki, is transferring into. Two other students have died over summer break, as well. One of Souji’s classmates, the perky Yukako Sasai, is attempting to investigate and enlists his help because he’s very smart and she thinks his politician dad might be able to get her access to the police department’s information. By this point, I was expecting a Haruhi-esque story, in which stoic Souji goes along with energetic Yukako’s efforts to unravel the mystery. Instead, the story goes in a completely different direction, as we begin to learn more and more unpleasant things about Souji’s deeply creepy family.
The back cover of the first volume tries very hard to depict the “inappropriate” and “clingy” behavior of Souji’s sisters as something new, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is par for the course, given that Souji’s been having sex with his half-sister, Saki, since at least middle school. This doesn’t prevent his full-blooded sister, Youko, from coming on to him nor his innocent step-sister, Harumi, from wanting to be his bride. On top of this, Souji suspects Saki and Youko of committing the murders, and volume two attempts (in as baffling a manner as possible) to flesh out the family history as (I think) supernatural assassins of some sort who also possibly suffer from multiple personality disorder. It’s monumentally unclear and surreal in a bad way.
Natsumi Kohane’s art doesn’t help matters any. Faces are generic and stiff, anatomy can occasionally be very strange, and the action scenes in the Heian-era flashback are utterly incomprehensible. Plus, there’s a lot of squicky images like this one. Seriously, is that supposed to be sexy? It looks like she’s barfing out a slug!
Apparently, this is all that’s been written of this series so far, and the second volume is padded out with an illustration gallery and a preview of Blood Alone. Normally I’d be sorry to see a manga go unfinished, but in this case, I think we should all be grateful.
MELINDA: Well, wow. After that image, I find that I have nothing to say. Except maybe, “Ew.”
MICHELLE: “Ew” is certainly the prevailing thought I’m left with after that second volume. After that image, we’re both probably in need of a mental palate cleanser. I hope you’ve something that can do the trick!
MELINDA: You know, I do! I liked both my reads this week, but I’ll start with one I know you’ve read and liked as well to help with that cleansing. I’m talking about Bakuman, by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the fifth volume of which has been released just this week.
Mashiro and Takagi have gotten their manga serialized, but their success begins with a shock as their editor, Hattori, is being replaced by Miura, a man they’ve never met before. Though they have no choice but to accept the change, things get off to a rocky start as their series takes a while to catch on with Jump readers.
I’ve blown hot and cold with this manga in some ways, but I think I’ll never stop being fascinated by the look it provides into the process at Weekly Shonen Jump, however pro-Jump it might read to someone with more knowledge of the business in Japan. I’m charmed, too, by the way its creators use the Jump formula to comment in Jump itself.
For a long time, these things were the series’ only decisive draw for me, but more and more I’m drawn in by the series’ supporting characters, especially eccentric prodigy Eiji Nizuma and Takagi’s girlfriend, Miyoshi, who are probably my favorite characters in the series.
Volume five warms me to some potential new favorites, including reluctant mangaka Hiramaru who, when asked if he wanted to be a manga artist, replies, “Maybe, for like a fraction of a second.” I’m also becoming increasingly fond of self-possessed writer Aoki, who manages to lower her defenses a bit in this volume.
More astonishingly, the series’ protagonists have started to matter to me. While this should perhaps be a given for most series, this is the first volume in which I’ve found myself really at the edge of my seat, wondering what will happen as they receive each week’s reader survey results. Finally these characters mean something to me, which makes the whole thing that much more worthwhile. It’s a real treat.
MICHELLE: I love Nizuma so much now that I can’t believe I ever found him irritating. My favorite moment in the whole volume occurs when Mashiro and Takagi encounter him at the Jump New Year’s party, dramatically quaffing soda from a champagne glass.
I’m with you, too, on finally caring about Mashiro and Takagi as people. I think it helps that other characters are acknowledging the ridiculousness of Mashiro’s arrangement with Miho, the girl he likes, not to see each other until their dreams come true. Plus, Miyoshi is so awesome that Takagi grows more awesome for liking a girl like her.
It’s really become a series that I actively anticipate.
MELINDA: You’re absolutely right about Miyoshi’s awesomeifying effect. And I think it helps, too, that Miho is really struggling, so we’re seeing some nuance in that relationship even within its ridiculous construct.
So go on now and hit me with “epic and impressive!”
MICHELLE: I know that you, historically, have not had an easy time getting into Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, but I have to say, it really is a stunning piece of storytelling. Oda has created not just a cast of likable characters, but a fully realized world for them to inhabit, and in this world, conflict has long been brewing between the pirates and the navy.
In volume 57 of the series, this conflict comes to a head on the island of Marineford where Portgaz D. Ace, brother to series protagonist Monkey D. Luffy, is about to be executed by the navy. Luffy’s on his way to save him, along with a plethora of pirates he helped escape from the impregnable prison Impel Down, but does not actually appear until midway through the volume. Instead, we witness the beginnings of an epic clash between the navy and Whitebeard, a powerful pirate and Ace’s captain.
The battle is huge, sprawling, and fascinating. It’s made doubly more impressive by the fact that, with the exception of the tardy Luffy, it’s entirely being carried out by supporting characters. That is how fleshed out this world is—there’s a whole cast of semi-familiar navy officials (and hired security of sorts in the form of the Warlords of the Sea) to go up against Whitebeard and his allies. Part of the draw is the cool Devil Fruit powers nearly everyone seems to possess, but Oda does a great job conveying the importance of this encounter as well as linking the public revelation of Luffy’s parentage to events that occurred much earlier in the series. Continuity has always been one of the series’ strongest suits.
I must also mention that many of Luffy’s allies are drag queens who rush into the fray whilst wearing fishnets and high heels. No one bats an eye, because in this universe, it’s a given truth that anyone can be brave and awesome, even if they’re a man wearing a tutu.
MELINDA: Well, if you think about it, is there anyone braver than a man wearing a tutu? I think not.
I know I need to get further into this series, and every time you or David talk about it, I remember why.
MICHELLE: That’s a very good point!
And yes, you do. I wish everyone had a public library as awesome as mine, because it’s ever so much easier to commit to a 62-volumes-so-far series like this one when you have that kind of resource. Even so, I find myself seriously tempted to start compiling my own collection. It’s just that good.
What else did you read this week?
MELINDA: Well, I’m way behind, but I finally read the third volume of Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves, one of my very favorite current series.
It’s difficult to discuss plot when talking about this series, because though things do happen in the world of broken samurai Masa, the story’s actual events are never really the point. There’s a missing member of the Five Leaves gang and the theft of a candle merchant’s seals, but the real story here seems to be about Masa’s acquaintance with a man from the magistrate’s office and the strain that acquaintance is putting on his relationship with Five Leaves leader, Yaichi.
This series is built on deeply private characters and layers and layers of atmosphere. Even when nothing particular is going on, you can feel the weight of Masa’s world on his slouched shoulders. Even in his most contented moments, his world feels heavy, yet he’s quietly grateful for all of it, somehow. He’s the soul of this story in all his passive reticence, and it’s his personal journey that most interests me.
That said, some real tension begins brewing in the plot department during this volume, which should offer a clearer thread of action as the story continues on. And if I’m content to sit with Masa as he quietly waffles through life, I admit that this extra momentum is a bit exciting. One gets the feeling that it wouldn’t take much for the entire world Ono has created to shatter into pieces, should something happen to break the tension she’s built up so slowly.
This series is one I find myself rereading already just to pick up extra nuances as I head into each new volume. It’s that compelling for me.
MICHELLE: I haven’t read beyond volume one yet myself, but even from the beginning the weight of tension is tangible. Now I’m excited by proxy at the idea of actual plot momentum. I wonder if that’s an IKKI thing, because Saturn Apartments is similar—I’m perfectly content to wallow in its slice-of-life charm, but small stirrings of actual plot seem to be cropping up in earnest now, meaning the series might become even more enjoyable.
MELINDA: Yes, I’m really looking forward to what the next volume has in store.
In other news, every time I look up at that slug-tongue image, it creeps me out more. I had to make it smaller, just to lessen the effect.
MICHELLE: I keep looking at it, too, as if to remind myself of its utter awfulness. Now I feel compelled to apologize to the readers for exposing them to it.
MELINDA: Hopefully they will forgive us … and possibly save us from it.
MICHELLE: We can only hope.