This week, MJ, Michelle, & Kate look at new releases from Viz Media, Digital Manga Publishing, and Vertical, Inc.
About Love | By Narise Konohara and Tomo Ootake | Digital Manga Publishing – The unconventional cover on this one led me to expect a quirky story, but About Love is calm and melancholy as it depicts the friendship and romance between Asaka, a wedding planner, and Sasagawa, one of his first clients. What I found striking about this story was the lack of optimism from its protagonists—Sasagawa is convinced that Asaka only wants to be friends while Asaka is in love but has no intentions of ever revealing the relationship to his friends and family. Misunderstandings and work obligations conspire to keep the two apart and… I don’t know… usually one assumes a BL couple will ride happily off into the sunset, but I honestly am not sure that’ll happen here. Which is probably a good thing, right? Bucking convention and all that. In any case, it was an interesting read and I recommend it if you’re in the mood for something different. – Michelle Smith
Bakuman, Vol. 8 | By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata | Viz Media – Bakuman‘s romantic entanglements have never been its strength, and unfortunately this volume is saddled with more than its fair share. Even more unfortunate is the authors’ portrayal of young novelist Aiko Iwase, a brilliant former schoolmate of our heroes, whose ambition is apparently driven entirely by romantic feelings for Takagi, but is presented without any of the genuine insight or sympathy granted to similarly love-obsessed artist Nakai. And while it’s admittedly pretty satisfying to see Nakai finally get smacked in the face (twice!) later in this volume, it’s even more of a relief to see Ohba and Obata turn the plot back to the craft and politics of the manga publishing biz, which is what really makes this series work. I’ll cross my fingers in hopes that we see more of this in the next volume. Still cautiously recommended. – MJ
Black Jack, Vol. 17 | By Osamu Tezuka | Vertical, Inc. – The final installment of Black Jack includes a mixture of good, great, and outstanding stories, the best of which feature Pinoko. I’d be the first to admit that Pinoko is my least favorite character of the series, as she’s always struck me as a nasty caricature of the Japanese housewife. In volume 17, however, Pinoko is forced to confront her liminal status as an adult — first when Black Jack tries to give her to a childless couple, then when her sister enters Black Jack’s life again. Both stories are an appealing mixture of humor, suspense, and pathos that cast this problematic character in a more sympathetic light; we feel Pinoko’s pain as she struggles to reconcile her eternally youthful appearance with her more mature feelings for Black Jack. As an added bonus, Tezuka stuffs these last stories with cameos from Phoenix, Ode to Kirihito, and Swallowing the Earth (to name a few), a lovely reward for his most devoted fans. – Katherine Dacey
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow, Vol. 4 | By Shunju Aono | Viz Media – After the crushing resignation of the editor who believed in him, Shizuo’s new editor—the embittered, no-nonsense daughter of a failed novelist—cuts him no slack, describing his work as self-indulgent justification for his own lifestyle. Surprisingly, Shizuo actually seems to listen, at least by the end of the volume, providing hope that the promised “Tomorrow” might actually be at hand. I’ve become frustrated with this series from time-to-time, as it vacillates between latching on to a real narrative and settling into the perpetual sitcom feel so common in comedic manga. But I do have some hope of it finally leaning towards the former, especially after this very strong volume. As usual, the series’ side characters are more interesting than its protagonist, but finally it seems like that protagonist might actually care. It’s fascinating to watch this series evolve in a way not dissimilar to our hero’s own journey, which may simply prove how brilliant it’s been from the start. Recommended. – MJ
The Innocent | By Avi Arad, Junichi Fujisaku, and Yasung Ko | Yen Press – I was initially baffled by the presence of quotes from Stan Lee and Sam Raimi on the back cover of The Innocent until a little research revealed that Arad is actually some kind of Marvel bigwig. Apparently, this is why he has the likes of Nicolas Cage proclaiming that his work “shows like an esoteric haiku by way of anime and Lichtenstein and achieves comic book poetry.” To which I say, “Um, what?” And also, “Were we reading the same book?” I found The Innocent to be uninspired, with unsympathetic characters, incredibly paper-thin villains, and incoherent action scenes. It’s possible that this could have been a cool story—it does feature a wrongly executed guy who comes back to life with a body made of ash, which he can manipulate in various nifty ways—but the flaws listed above prevented me from giving a hoot about any of it. – Michelle Smith
Real, Vol. 10 | By Takehiko Inoue | Viz Media – It’s been a long wait for the tenth volume of Real, but I am happy to report that the wait is well worthwhile! This volume maintains the sort of shounen-esque feel of volume nine, with a mixture of grand declarations, gritty determination, and talk of achieving one’s dreams, but without losing any of the realism that makes this series so compelling. It’s gratifying, really, to see a character like Takahashi discover a glimmer of aspiration at long last, and it’s surprising how possible Noyima’s seemingly unrealistic dream suddenly appears, now that his moment of trial has arrived. Inoue’s craftsmanship is as stunning as ever, and I’m constantly impressed by his ability to shift focus from character to character without ever losing the tension in even one of his delicately-overlapping storylines. Heavy as it can be, this series is always a pleasure to read, which is a true feat for any writer. It seems clear that this series will always be worth waiting for. Highly recommended. – MJ