New arrivals are few this week at Midtown Comics, so at Kate’s suggestion, we’re taking a bit of a detour. Inspired by David’s recent Viz 25 post, each of us will pick out a favorite Viz title we view as underrated. See our choices below!
MJ: I’m going to start us off looking ridiculous by naming Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist for my pick this week. It may seem crazy to call such a popular series “underrated,” but I actually think its popularity keeps many critics from recognizing its true quality. I blame this at least partly on the anime series, which, though fun and very compelling, barely scrapes the surface of its source material. And no wonder, when you consider how early on that series was made and how deep Arakawa has gone with her storyline since. When I first started reading manga, Arakawa was one of its storytellers I admired most, and that hasn’t changed at all over the past few years. She tells a complex, epic story with humor and a level of clarity I’ve seldom seen in any genre. Fullmetal Alchemist is just damn good.
DAVID: I can’t tell you how glad I am that Kate suggested this theme, because I was feeling horribly guilty about some of my (entirely defensible and necessary) omissions. I’ll begin the redressing by mentioning the prolific Yuu Watase. Now, for my money, the cream of her crop isn’t one of her fantasy-tinged epics. It’s the down-to-earth romantic comedy Imadoki! Nowadays. When a country girl (accompanied by her pet fox) travels to the big city to attend an elite school, she really wants to make friends, though the icy snobs make that a challenge. Tanpopo is a relentless optimist, though, and like the dandelion for which she’s named, she can blossom in the most inhospitable environments. I always enjoy comics about friendship, though there’s plenty of romance on offer as well. Sweet, funny, surprisingly moving, and only five volumes.
KATE: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my suggestion is Kaze Hikaru, Taeko Watanabe’s gender-bending samurai drama about a young woman who joins the Shinsengumi to avenge her father and brother’s deaths. I’d be the first to admit that the pacing can be stately — think Hara Kiri, not Hana to Yume — and the romantic elements muted, but Kaze Hikaru features one of the smartest, fiercest heroines in shojo manga, a girl so principled she’d rather be respected as a warrior than adored as a woman. (Now that’s bad-ass.) Writing about the series last year, I argued that Watanabe has “created an action-filled drama in the vein of The Rose of Versailles or They Were Eleven but transplanted the setting from the relatively safe, romanticized worlds of the French Revolution and outer space to a period in Japanese history in which the male-identified virtues of courage, discipline, and patriotism dominated public discourse,” in effect giving girls “the freedom to project themselves into Japan’s past without gender constraints.” VIZ has published eighteen of the twenty-nine ongoing volumes, with volume nineteen scheduled for an August 2011 release. Easily my favorite shojo manga.
MICHELLE: I probably should be writing about Basara here. I always write about Basara in response to this sort of question. This time, though, I am going to cast my vote for Akimi Yoshida’s Banana Fish—stay tuned for a roundtable on the final three volumes coming to Manga Bookshelf later this month!—the suspenseful and action-packed story of a beautiful, brilliant badass named Ash Lynx and the warm-hearted Japanese boy with whom he can allow his weaknesses to show. As he works to learn the truth behind the drug that claimed his brother’s sanity, gangleader Ash finds himself up against rival gangs, the mafia, and the U.S. government. This is the series to give anyone who sneeringly derides shoujo manga—it’s exciting and gritty and, okay, the awesomeness of its hero is a little over-the-top, but overall it’s a tremendously fun read.
So, readers, what are your favorite underrated Viz titles?
Angela saysMay 9, 2011 at 11:58 am
I am always excited to see Fullmetal Alchemist on any list. Though I’d been reading manga for a couple years before I found this, it was the first series I completely fixated on. I’m almost sad to see it end in two volumes.
I would’ve picked FMA myself for underrated series, but to be original I’ll say Hoshin Engi. I never see anyone talking about it, but I just love the story, and the characters, and the ridiculous costumes.
Aaron saysMay 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm
I have to throw my vote in for two underated and (now) mostlly out of PRint Old School Shonen titles Fist of The North Star becuese Kinshiro owns I mean “you dont know you’re all ready dead” best finshing line ever! and Knights of The Zodiac becuese four words “Phoenix Illusion Demonic Fist!!” that’s all that needs to be said. Not but seriouslly both these titles have a gravatese and sincerity that I think is lacking in a lot of modern day Shonen so that’s what I would pick
Noura saysMay 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm
For favoite underrated titles, I would name Chie Shinohara’s Red River. It is a shame that such great series was not appreciated enough. I admit I wasn’t all that drawn to it at first but I ended up loving it so much that I gave it a 10, which I rarely do. I have a thing for historical, fantasy romances. Some might compare it to Yuu Watase’s Fushigi Yuugi for the fantasy element and the whole getting spritied away to another world thing but Red River definitely surpasses it, IMO. It may sound a bit long (28 volumes) but I enjoyed my time reading it.
Other titles I would name are BANANA FISH, BASARA and Baby & Me.
Jenn saysMay 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm
I am going to have to go with Gin Tama. Since it is being canceled (sniff) it is clearly being underrated by someone. I may not get all the jokes, but I get enough of them so that at some point in every volume, I need to check a mirror to make sure I don’t have mascara all over my face from the tears of laughter. But I also admit to a soft spot for Gin Tama. It was one of the first two titles I started collecting when I first branched out from the monthly Shonen Jump two years ago.
CJ saysMay 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm
Other than my near contractual obligation to mention Banana Fish? Which everyone needs to read right now?
-Maison Ikkoku. It just seems like all the other Takahashi works get so much more attention when MI deserves to have quite a bit more by comparison.
-Hikaru no Go. Who thought a manga about a board game that I still don’t know how to begin to play could be so interesting? The characters are just amazing, Yumi Hotta needs to do more manga!
-Kekkashi. This one should be popular and now Viz is finally starting to advertise it (thanks to it being on [as]), but I still don’t hear enough people talking about this one. In fact, a lot of anime fans seem upset that Kekkaishi was picked for [as] and not Soul Eater. Only the first 12-13 volumes or so are animated and I feel like everyone is dismissing the series as your average shonen when it’s so much better!
-Adolf. A lot of people know about Phoenix, but fewer know of Adolf. I’m personally hoping they will lose the rights to both so Vertical can snatch them and put them back in print. I’ve given up on finding Adolf vol 1 in English for a decent price, so I ordered a German volume 1. It’s one of my favorite Tezuka titles though!
-Firefighter Daigo. This is how you do action! Page turning goodness with great action and characters! And the ending gave me warm fuzzy feelings :3 Too bad it sold terribly, we’ll never see any reprints, omnibuses, etc. Now if only I could find volume 6 and complete my set….
Safetygirl saysMay 10, 2011 at 12:10 am
Kaze Hikaru!! Kaze Hikaru!! Well, Kate’s already said it better than I ever could. :)
How about some of the older Shojo line series?
– From Far Away – A sweet fantasy series like something CMX would have published. I love Kyoko Hikawa’s 80’s-style art.
– W Juliet – for all of the drama club nerds, and those who were or wish they had been. Gender-bending and plays!
– Red River – I love historicals! I also love Chie Shinohara’s beautiful art style with long, graceful lines that references a more classic shojo style.
– Boys Over Flowers – Could you image a series this old and this long being licensed these days? A wonderful soap opera.
Michelle Smith saysMay 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm
I <3 Boys Over Flowers very much, and really enjoyed what I read of From Far Away (the first five volumes). Still need to read the other two.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 11, 2011 at 10:03 am
Thanks for the kind words! I hope VIZ realizes that there is a small but ardent fan base for KH.