This week’s Short Takes examines two manga aimed at adult audiences. (Notice I didn’t say “adult manga,” which is a different kettle of fish altogether, and not the sort of thing I typically review. Just sayin’.) The first is The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), a macabre series about a five oddballs who work with the recently departed; the second is Oishinbo a la Carte: Japanese Cuisine (Viz), a mouth-watering look at Japanese cuisine, from sushi and sake to ramen.
Detroit Metal City is a rude, raunchy comedy that’s both a satire of death metal culture and a loving portrait of the folks who labor in its trenches.
When we first meet the series’ hero, twenty-three-year-old Soichi Negishi, he’s wearing a fright wig, kabuki makeup, fangs, and a pair of knee-high platform boots that look like they were swiped from Paul Stanley’s closet. Soichi is the lead singer and guitarist for Detroit Metal City (DMC), an “evil core death metal band with a huge following.” Onstage, Soichi adopts the persona of Krauser II, Lord of Hell, spitting lyrics about rape, torture, and mutilation; offstage, however, Soichi is a sweetly metrosexual young man who loves Swedish pop music, Audrey Tatou movies, and shopping for stylish clothing in the Daikanyama district. How, exactly, Soichi ended up singing in DMC is something of a mystery; by his own admission, he left his parents’ farm hoping to start a “hip indie pop band.” Five years later, however, Soichi is living in Tokyo and performing in DMC while doing his utmost to conceal that fact. Try as he might, however, he can’t quite limit his loud, violent persona to the stage, as Krauser has an unfortunate tendency to manifest himself whenever Soichi is depressed, angry, intoxicated, or feeling rejected by Yuri, a pretty young magazine editor who shares Soichi’s passion for perky tunes.
Forget what you know about the Russian Revolution. The real cause of the Romanov’s demise wasn’t growing unrest among the proletariat, the intelligentsia, or the military; nor the high cost of World War I; nor the famines of 1906 and 1911, but something far more sinister: vampires. At least, that’s the central thesis of Blood+ Adagio, a prequel to the popular anime/manga series about an immortal, vampire-slaying schoolgirl and her handsome, enigmatic handler. The first volume of Adagio transplants Saya and Hagi from the steamy jungles of present-day Okinawa and Vietnam — where they’ve battled US military forces and the myserious Cinq Flèches Group — to the chilly halls of Nicholas II’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg — where they discover a nest of Chiropterans (a.k.a vampires who are more beast than bishie) as well as a host of schemers, sycophants, and crazy folk in the tsar’s orbit. Let the slayage begin!
Much as I love composing in-depth reviews, the sheer number of new releases makes it impossible for even the most ambitious critic to give every interesting series the 800-word treatment. In an effort to stay abreast of current titles, therefore, I’ll be posting a regular column that offers more concise assessments of new and noteworthy books — manga tapas, if you will. This week, I look at two recent releases: Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea (CMX), a done-in-one biography of the famous warrior; and volume one of Venus Capriccio (CMX), a romantic comedy about a tomboy and the piano prodigy who loves her.
BY NAKABA HIGURASHI AND SEIICHI MORIMURA • CMX • 178 pp. • RATING: TEEN PLUS (13+)
Cecile B. DeMille never made a movie about Genghis Khan, but if he had, it might have resembled To the Ends of the Earth and Sea, a beautiful but turgid biography of the great warrior. All of the requisite elements are there: sweeping vistas, epic battles, blood oaths, and feuding brothers. The only thing missing is camels.
To the Ends of the Earth follows Genghis Khan at two critical stages in his life: his early adolescence, when his father was grooming him to become the new head of the Borjigin clan (a powerful Monoglian tribe); and his mid-life, when he was systematically conquering the rest of Mongolia. In the first chapter of the story, we learn that Khan’s tribesmen questioned his parentage, suggesting that he was, in fact, the scion of a rival clan. We also see Khan’s fateful meeting with Jamuqua, the future leader of another powerful tribe, the Jadirat. These two scenes provide the subtext for later chapters, implying that Khan needed to conquer Mongolia to prove himself his father’s heir, and to settle an old score with Jamuqua, to whom he’d sworn a blood oath of allegiance as a child. Unfortunately, this effort to bring psychological nuance to Khan’s character falls flat; at 178 pages, the book isn’t long enough to accommodate quiet scenes of character development and epic battles without skimping on both. That leaves the dialogue with the primary responsibility of advancing the narrative, yielding passages that sound more like exposition than conversation: when was the last time you heard one of your siblings identify himself by birth order?
Slam Dunk may have been the series that put Takehiko Inoue on the map and introduced legions of Japanese kids to basketball, but for me, a long-time hoops fan who grew up watching Larry Bird lead the Celtics to numerous NBA champtionships, Slam Dunk was a disappointment, a shonen sports comedy whose goofy hero desperately needed a summer at Robert Parrish Basketball Camp for schooling in the basics. Real, on the other hand, offered this armchair point guard something new: a window into the fiercely competitive world of wheelchair basketball. Watching Inoue’s characters run a man-to-man defense and shoot three-pointers from their chairs gave me a fresh appreciation for just how much strength, stamina, and smarts it takes to play the game, with or without the use of ones’ legs.
Much of the series’ appeal lies with Inoue’s superb draftsmanship. As he does in both Slam Dunk and Vagabond, he immerses us in the action, making us feel as if we’re on the court with his characters, bumping rims and talking trash. No detail is squandered; even a close-up of a character’s eyes or hands helps us picture where his teammates are on the court, and imagine how the play might unfold.
Remake or retread? That’s the question facing critics whenever someone updates a classic novel or favorite film, be it Pride and Prejudice or The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. A remake brings new urgency or wit to the original story, new clarity to its structure, or new life to a premise that, by virtue of social or technological change, seems dated—think of Philip Kaufman’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which infused a 1950s it-came-from-outer-space story with a healthy dose of seventies paranoia, or Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which featured a leaner, meaner script than his 1934 original. Retreads, on the other hand, evoke the letter but not the spirit of the originals, embellishing their plots with fussy details, slangy dialogue, or new characters without adding anything of value—think of Ethan and Joel Coens’ deep-fried version of The Ladykillers, which was louder, cruder, and longer than the 1955 film, yet decidedly less funny.
Samurai 7, a mangafication of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, falls somewhere between these poles, treating the source material respectfully without adding anything particularly new or interesting to the mix. The basic plot remains the same: a poor rural village hires seven samurai to protect them from a band of thugs who steal their rice and enslave their womenfolk. Though the manga takes minor liberties with the main characters—one is a headless cyborg, one is a bishonen who always seems to be falling out of his yukata—the samurai bear a strong resemblance to Kurosawa’s original crew, both in terms of their personalities and functions within the group. The manga also preserves the war-ravaged atmosphere of the original, substituting a robot-fueled world war for the carnage caused by sixteenth-century daimyo.