manga bookshelf

Off the Shelf: Dark Horse Saves the Day

MICHELLE: Life’s a funny thing, you know. Within a span of two days, JManga calls it quits, but a Veronica Mars film becomes a (future) reality. Without the latter to buoy my spirits, I would’ve been much more crushed by the former.

MELINDA: Since I wasn’t a Veronica Mars fan (I know, I know, everyone says I should watch it), I admit I’m just kind of existing in a shell-shocked haze. Between JManga and Google Reader, I’m feeling pretty disoriented in my digital world right now.

MICHELLE: I’m sad about Google Reader, too! It seems like all the other alternatives are too fussy. I want a minimalist option. Anyway, was there anything in the world of manga to cheer you?

tokyobabylon1MELINDA: Fortunately, there was. Though this week became tragic in multiple ways, it began at least with the blissful knowledge that we’d finally be seeing Tokyo Babylon, my favorite CLAMP manga, back in print. Originally published by TOKYOPOP, the series was officially out of print (with a few volumes still easily available online) long before the company shut down its North American publishing operations. Fortunately, Dark Horse announced in 2011 that they’d be adding the series to their growing catalogue of CLAMP omnibus releases. It was originally slated for publication later that year, leading some of us to wonder whether we’d gotten our hopes up too soon, but the first volume finally hit some stores this week! I’m still waiting for my print copy to ship from Amazon, but I was able to preview a PDF of the book, which has temporarily tided me over.

So, it’s no secret that I love Tokyo Babylon. In fact, I once volunteered to host the CLAMP MMF purely out of a desire to make people talk about it. It’s a concise, fairly intimate series that somehow manages to feel genuinely epic (and genuinely tragic) over the course of just seven short volumes (Dark Horse is doing it in two). I’ve already written about the full series at length, both in my original review of it at Comics Should Be Good and in our roundtable discussion last year, so I won’t spend time repeating myself here. Instead, I’ll talk about what’s different in Dark Horse’s edition.

Unfortunately, since I haven’t yet received my print volume, I can’t personally confirm anything about paper quality or trim size, except to (happily) note that Dark Horse’s website lists it as 5 3/4″ x 8 1/4, which was the same size as their Cardcaptor Sakura volumes—and the ideal format for CLAMP’s gorgeous artwork, in my opinion. I’ll be absolutely thrilled, assuming this is the case. Volume one also boasts of “over a dozen” color pages—most of which are, I believe, the same color pages that TOKYOPOP’s editions contained, though there may be extras I’m not noticing as I read through the PDF preview.

What I can confirm is that Dark Horse’s English adaptation is noticeably different, presumably thanks to the hand of its new editor, Carl Horn. Carl has a gift for making English dialogue really come alive, and his influence is apparent immediately. For example, in the beginning of the first chapter, Subaru innocently describes a scene in which a spirit he exorcised turned out to be the ghost of a young girl who committed suicide after being cruelly dumped by the celebrity whose bed she was haunting every night.

In TOKYOPOP’s version, Subaru mentions that the girl’s strongest memories were not of the room itself, but just of the bed, at which point Hokuto laughs, “In other words, the only thing that guy showed her was the ceiling in his bedroom!” In Dark Horse’s new version, it’s Subaru who wonders at the fact that it was only the ceiling of the room that the girl remembered, giving Hokuto the response, “I guess that’s the only part the guy ever showed her!” It’s a small change, but moving the detail about the ceiling to Subaru just makes the joke work better. It’s somehow much, much funnier. And this kind of thing continues throughout the volume.

MICHELLE: I hadn’t really planned on buying the series over again, but if it’s got a better, more natural English adaptation, then perhaps I ought to reconsider. I believe Carl Horn’s also known for writing entertaining end notes—has he done that this time, too?

MELINDA: He hasn’t (at least not in the PDF I have), and in fact there are actually fewer notes than in TOKYOPOP’s version, as Dark Horse’s doesn’t include a glossary and doesn’t require endnote translations for the sound-effects, either (they are translated right alongside in Dark Horse’s edition). But I really do recommend the new adaptation. Plus, if the trim size is as promised, it’s going to be gorgeous. I’m hoping they’ve used really nice paper, too.

The one difference I haven’t mentioned so far is one that genuinely concerns me, though I hope to have that concern abated shortly. In the TOKYOPOP editions, Hokuto’s terrific side-story (you know, the one where she basically becomes awesomeness incarnate) is included at the end of volume two. But though Dark Horse’s first omnibus spans partway through volume four of TOKYOPOP’s edition, her side story is yet to be found. I’m hoping that it’s just been put into the second volume, and I have an e-mail out to Dark Horse to confirm this, but I’ve yet to receive a reply. Edited to add 3/18/13: Carl Horn says yes, the story will appear! Hokuto fans everywhere rejoice! (It all comes down to the tankobon vs. bunko editions—if you want more detail ask me in comments.)

MICHELLE: That is worrying, but I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t include it!

MELINDA: I’ll be sure to report back!

So, have you found any manga to ease your pain this week, Michelle?

saika1MICHELLE: Sort of. My solo read for this week was the first volume of Durarara!! Saika Arc, which is a sequel series to the regular Durarara!! that I’ve talked about a few times before. I didn’t always like the original—sometimes it didn’t make sense, and I took issue with a couple of female characters happily falling in love with killers—but it remained intriguing, chiefly due to the fascinating headless “black rider,” Celty.

Perhaps I should backtrack a little. This series is set in Ikebukuro, where all manner of strange characters dwell. The first series was primarily the saga of Celty’s missing head, but now it’s a year later and something strange and new has begun. The area is being plagued by a slasher, whose non-fatal attacks have been increasing in frequency lately. The slasher links together some seemingly unconnected story elements—interrupting bullies as they gang up on a girl who feels disconnected from the world, attacking a reporter working on a feature about who’s the strongest in Ikebukuro—and ends up with Celty on his trail and Shizuo Heiwajima (a guy with massive brute strength that he can’t control) in his heart. Although there’s more to it than that. In, like, a supernatural way.

So far, this is shaping up to be a lot more linear than the original, and I’d say a definite improvement. Granted, I would probably be fascinated by just about anything Celty did. I suppose one could start here, as the story is so far very self-contained, but it would probably be disorienting to encounter so many characters at once. (Not unlike the beginning of the original, actually.)

MELINDA: I was going to ask about exactly that, actually. I could not get into the original no matter how hard I tried, and I thought I might have better luck with this. But I do wonder if I’d be able to figure out what was going on.

MICHELLE: I think you probably could. There are only a couple of references to what happened in the first series, and no real lingering plot threads. The real challenge would be all the “who the heck is this person?!” moments you’d encounter. Even for me, there are a still a couple of characters whose names I don’t know, but they barely appear. (Actually, why even bother including them? I do not know.)

Anyway, I like it well enough to continue with it.

Looks like it’s your turn to introduce our mutual read this time!

MELINDA: Indeed it is!

emeraldThis week, we both read Emerald and Other Stories, a collection of short manga by Hiroaki Samura, creator of Blade of the Immortal. I’ll admit that I’ve actually not read any of Blade of the Immortal, but though this short manga collection is a little uneven (as all short manga collections seem to be), I found enough to like in it that I’m anxious now to read more of Samura-sensei’s work.

Samura comments at the end of the volume that this collection was originally called Sister Generator, because he’d noticed that nearly all of its main characters were women—and that is probably the biggest draw for me here. The stories start strong, beginning with a tale set in the American Old West, in which a woman hires a male “hero” (in this world, “heroes,” are often just really successful criminals) to save a young girl from a life of servitude to the owner of a brothel—not that the “hero” has any idea that this is what he’s being hired for. It’s a tense, well-told story with a fairly nuanced take on Old West morality and its challenges for women, and a seriously badass female lead, all of which is certainly the key to my heart.

As the volume continues, the content varies widely, from a somewhat uncomfortably erotic story about a teen girl’s final days with her dying father, to a semi-autobiographical story-within-a-sci-fi-story, to a series of humorous schoolgirl vignettes called, “The Uniforms Stay On.” And though I’ve described the collection as “uneven,” I should clarify to say that even in its weakest moments (a story written about a guy’s embarrassing rock-song confession probably worked the least well for me) there is always something brilliant or intriguing to latch on to.

The gag comics are unusually funny. The fantasy comics are surprisingly coherent. The erotic elements are genuinely erotic, even when they’re vaguely uncomfortable. And though some of that can be chalked up to Samura’s thoughtful, detailed artwork, he’s also just a really strong storyteller. So often, stories in short manga collections feel… experimental (read: unfinished) and that’s not at all the case here. Each short story reads as a real story, and that’s a rare find in this format. I was more than pleasantly surprised.

MICHELLE: Wow, I am so tempted to say “what she said,” because I think you touched on most of my own reactions, too.

“Emerald” is probably my favorite story of the bunch, simply because I love a clever female lead, and this one has two of them. I didn’t see where it was going at first, but it surprised me, and ended up being wholly satisfying, which is quite a rare thing for a short story. And, in fact, being surprised was somewhat of a theme here. I don’t necessarily mean plot events, either, but more in the line of a story not really being what you thought it was, like “Shizuru Cinema,” the story of the aspiring manga artist and his high-school aged girlfriend/muse. “Uniforms” was often genuinely amusingly random—the girls discuss things as various as religion, Korean influence, and pig-spinach hybrids—and I liked “Brigitte’s Dinner” quite a bit, too. That one had kind of a happy ending, actually, if the last few pages mean what I think they mean.

I’m with you regarding the love song story working the least well—it also has some final pages of murky meaning—and I was also completely baffled by the autobiographical tale of some mahjong game, and squicked by “The Kusein Family’s Grandest Show,” but on the whole this was a very strong collection. And I love Samura’s artwork, which is even more impressive in Blade of the Immortal (of which I have admittedly only read one volume).

MELINDA: I’m quite certain you’re reading the end of “Brigitte’s Dinner” as intended! I thought it was a happy ending of a sort, too. And actually, “of a sort” is key here, because one of the book’s greatest strengths is that nothing is really black and white. I don’t want to spoil that story for anyone, so I’ll refrain from explaining exactly what I mean, but it’s the kind of story that is both tragic and happy at the same time. Much like real life.

MICHELLE: I agree. Dark Horse’s back cover describes these stories as “seven powerful, short pieces” and that’s really true. Too often, short stories are forgettable. Or, maybe there will be one good one, and then a bunch of others that drift out of your brain a couple of hours after reading them. But here we have several strong ones that I think will stay with me a while.

MELINDA: Same here. So, after a rough week, I’ll thank Dark Horse manga for stepping up to save the day!

Did you enjoy this article? Consider supporting us.


  1. Wow, this paragraph is good, my younger sister is analyzing such things, thus I am going to convey her.


  1. […] I think I’m gonna go with Durarara!! Saika Arc this week. As I wrote in a recent Off the Shelf, so far “this is shaping up to be a lot more linear than the original, and I’d say a […]

  2. […] up volume one of Dark Horse’s new release of CLAMP’s Tokyo Babylon. I already discussed much of the content, but I guess this is my opportunity to report that it’s an absolutely gorgeous edition. Dark […]

  3. […] favorite now back in print with a fresh English adaptation and gorgeous print production. I previewed the first omnibus for Off the Shelf in March, and I couldn’t be happier. From that column: “… Dark […]

  4. […] how eagerly I’ve been anticipating this release. I was over the moon for Dark Horse’s first omnibus, and since I actually like to be beaten into a sobbing pulp by my fiction, I’m willing to […]

  5. […] Dark Horse’s new editions with their refreshed English adaptation and big, fancy trim size have already impressed me quite a bit. I’ve had this on pre-order for months, and I can’t wait for it to arrive. […]

  6. […] verve, and this re-issue of the original series is the first step forward. Additionally, I was a huge fan of Carl Horn’s updated translation of Tokyo Babylon, so that’s something I’m […]

Before leaving a comment at Manga Bookshelf, please read our Comment Policy.

Speak Your Mind