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?