Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rachelle Reads Manga Part 1: Action Adventure Manga!

So I have worked in a comic shop for almost two years now and in that time I have never really attempted to read manga. It's always there, that giant section of the store full of little books about people with giant eyes and minimal clothing. Stories where men look like girls, and women look like sex aliens.

People ask me to recommend manga, and I simply cannot do it. I have no idea what any of those books are about. It's second only to Magic cards on the ladder of things that I do not care about.

I have decided to take the plunge and try to read some manga. And you're gonna hear about it! Join me as I read the first volume of randomly selected manga series. Will I give up after a week of tedious backwards reading, or will I become a lifelong manga devotee/cosplay picnic organizer? Only time will tell.

I read three books from the action/adventure genre of manga to start with.

Banya the Explosive Delivery Man #1 by Kim Young-Oh (Dark Horse)

Why I picked it up: Ok, first of all, this is not technically manga. It's manhwa, which means it's Korean, not Japanese. See? I'm learning something already! Unlike manga, which is all backwards and weird, manhwa is read in the left-to-right, front-to-back style that North American's such as myself are used to reading books. Y'know. The normal way. So that was appealing.

Secondly, I flipped through it a bit and the art was really excellent looking. Better than most manga books I glance at. Plus, it's got an attractive cover.

I also trust Dark Horse so I thought I'd start with something they publish.

What it's about: The titular character, Banya, is a delivery boy in a fantasy world that looks kinda like the future and the past at the same time, y'know? He, along with his two pals Mei and Kong, make up the Gaya Desert Post Office. They can deliver any package or message to anyone anywhere for a price. It's established immediately that pretty much nothing can stop these guys if they need to deliver something. The real story starts when a wounded soldier shows up at the post office (which is like a deserted fort type place) and asks that they deliver the parcel that he was carrying to its final destination.

And what did I think about it?: As I said, the art was pretty incredible. There were a lot of really awesome pages. It's an interesting set-up, and the characters seem interesting. Mei, the lone female in the story, is particularly compelling. She isn't wearing much, but by manga standards she's practically a nun. I appreciate that, although she is scantily-clad, she doesn't have giant boobs and there is no cleavage. She also looks tough. And she is tough. She is established as the boss of the post office. That won me over.

There are a lot of mythical animals and monsters in the book that they run into while making deliveries. I'm not really into that kind of thing, but they are very well-drawn.

I find that the dialogue in manga is always kind of jarring. I guess something gets lost in translation because everything is just so awkward-sounding. In this book the three heroes talk like young smart-ass punks, and there is quite a bit of humour. It's just sort of weird-sounding.

Do I want to read the next volume?: I dunno. Kinda. If for no other reason than to look at more of Kim Young-Oh's art. This is basically the first manga book I've read, so it's hard for me to say if it's good manga. It seems like good manga. I think if you liked reading manga, you would like this.

Mei's a cool character. I guess I would like to see more of her.

Black Lagoon #1 by Rei Hiroe (Viz)

Why I picked it up: This one is new to the shop, and it was recommended to me by the owner of Strange Adventures. Plus that girl on the cover looked pretty tough.

What it's about: Strangely enough, this book also turned out to be about delivery people. This time it's set in our world, circa now, more or less. It follows a band of people who will deliver anything anywhere for a price. They travel around on a tricked-out WWII gun boat.

And what did I think about it?: It was pretty fun, actually. It's way over-the-top, but it's more than aware of how silly it is. It's a popcorn action movie with lots of violence and profanity. And the translation was far less awkward than the translation for Banya. It read a lot better, even though it was all backwards. There are some pretty awesome pages in this book too.

Do I want to read the next volume?: I could take or leave it. Of the three books, I'd probably be most interested in the next volume of this one.

Gantz #1 by Hiroya Oku (Dark Horse)

Why I picked it up: Oh God, I don't know. It was wrapped in plastic, which was intriguing. And the description made is sound interesting...

What it's about: I'm not really sure...I was a little distracted by the totally naked woman being treated horribly.

Basically a bunch of people who have recently died find themselves in a room in a building in Tokyo and are being instructed to perform missions for some sort of talking sphere.

So what did I think?: At first I thought it was pretty good...and then the naked woman showed up. She was one of the dead people to appear in the room. Her wrists are cut because she killed herself in the bathtub. She is pretty much immediately hauled off and raped by one of the men in the room, while the other men think about doing the same. There is also a recently dead dog in the room which also sexually assaults her.

And...the woman is totally naked and there are lots of close-ups of her various naughty parts. When the men are naked, however, it is blurred out. WTF?

Do I want to read the next volume: No. In fact, this kind of makes me want to stop reading manga altogether.

So that was my first attempt. I think next round I'll read some girly romance manga to see if that offends me less.


Kathryn said...

May I recommend "From Eroica With Love?" It's this totally 1970's manga that involves a gay art thief, an uptight NATO agent and various locales. It's not much about the sex, and the violence is occasional, but it is funny. They've finally come out with some official translations, so you can get hard copies. It's fluff, but it's good fluff...

Good luck!

Brad said...

One tip I *quickly* learned while having to read an ungodly amount of manga for a work-related thing was to avoid anything wrapped in plastic. That's pretty much the manga-equivalent of an "explicit content" sticker.

Having done my personal crawl, I will pass on that not a lot of what I read stuck with me, but I now have the entire run of "Kare Kano" on my bookshelf and especially recommend the first volumes... Masami Tsuda came from doing a lot of short stories, so she was used to introducing, expanding, and resolving plot points extremely quickly. That carried over into her exellent romantic comedy about high-school over-acheivers, so she avoided the glacial pace and melodrama that plague so many of the series I read (although later volumes start to fall victim to this trap).

I think just admitting that in public means I'm losing "manly guy points" by the bucket... quick someone ask me about the CFL!

Theresa said...

Rach! I need a story from you for Xmas...

*pathetic puppy eyes* me...

Eddie said...

Gantz is pretty much horrible. For whatever reason, it has A LOT of fans, probably because of the busty nekid women, but the plot is silly, the main character is completely unlikeable, blah blah don't get it.

Here are my recommendations:

1) Eagle: The Making of a Japanese American President

Kind of an ironic pick given the historic campaign going on in the States right now (there are a scary amount of parallels in the book), this book is about a Japanese reporter who finds out that he's the illegitimate son of a man who is running for president. Utterly fascinating look at American politics through the eyes of a foreigner.

2) Monster

Drake will back me up on this. This story is about a surgeon named Tenma who disobeys his director's orders in order to save the life of a young boy who was shot in the head. Years later, he finds out that the boy he's saved is responsible for a number of deaths, and the bodies are piling up, while the police start asking about some suspicious deaths that have catapulted Tenma to the head of the hospital...

3) School Rumble

A high-school comedy about a delinquent named Harimi who is in love with a girl named Tenma, who is in love with a guy named Oji... who is in love with curry. Misunderstandings and hilarity ensue.

- Eddie

Faith said...

Dammit, don't you stop reading manga without reading Monster! That's the series that made a believer about non-manga-reading me!

A girl at my studio is obsessed with Gantz. She constantly draws the characters and everything ... after reading what you wrote, I'm very puzzled.

Faith said...

Oops. I meant "out of" not "about". Dur.

HardtravelingHero said...

I really like this post. And I'm glad you tried something new. I was once like you. I worked in a comic book shop off and on for about seven years without ever touching Magic and some of the other products. Maybe not so much avoiding manga, since I'd watched anime a bit as Vampire Hunter D pulled me into anime around 1994, but not overwhelmingly so.

Anyhow, I like the format of the post and each book you read. I think readers could get a little more though, like you mention an interesting description for Gantz, but don't include it. This makes me wonder what that description is and being one a billion lazy internet people, I don't want to see of Amazon has bothered to include a description, because that would include clicking on a few links and typing some words.

Otherwise I think I may have to try gunboat mail delivery! I mean, read that book.

north said...

I second Monster, and recommend NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.

Eddie said...

For everyone curious:

Gantz is about this dickhead who dies and, like numerous other people, finds themselves playing a kind of weird game where they have to go out and kill aliens. Instead of being dead.

The premise is that by doing well in the game, they can rack up points to do such things as upgrade their equipment, and even revive the dead.

The premise isn't REALLY as bad as I might have made it out to be, but essentially what should (I suppose) be a story about a twisted gameshow and the characters attempts to escape, it completely fails to create interesting characters.

Rachelle mentions in her review that the-girl-who-gets-molested-by-a-dog is there because she committed suicide. The lead character and his friend are there because they tried to stop some people from getting hit by a subway and were, themselves, hit by said subway (I want to point out that our main protagonist? He was actually pretty okay with watching the people die. He's kind of a completely terrible lead character?).

What could have been a story of each individual gaining, I don't know, some sort of redemption, is instead tossed in favor of create a game with completely bizarre rules (the guns they have don't fire right after you pull the trigger. How long does it take? It depends on the plot).

No, I would say Gantz was created because the creator wanted an excuse to have a completely immoral (and unlikable) character, who he could then use to molest said girl-who-gets-molested-by-a-dog in one of her many moments of weakness when all she wants is a place to sleep after she finds out that for some reason, she's got some sort of twin double that is still alive and living in her place (I wish I was making any of this up).

Bottom line: self-surgery with a rusty knife is probably healthier for you than reading Gantz.

- Eddie

Dave said...

I highly recommend Maison Ikkoku, by Rumiko Takahashi. I guess it's a romantic comedy, with some slapstick and a lot of misunderstanding-based humor, a "comedy of errors" if you will. It centers around a Tokyo apartment building and the unusual tenants that live there. It has a very clean art style and the translation is by Gerard Jones, a noted superhero scribe. Basically, it's my favorite book ever! Please read it! I also recommend Nausicaa. It is quite excellent.

Adam said...

I don't read a lot of Manga. I did the Anime thing for awhile and to a certain extent I still do. I have enjoy everything by Rumiko Takahashi that I've read. It has that whole social interaction awkward love interest thing I'm into.

The Manga series I've made it the furthest into was Ranma 1/2. Partly because I dated a girl that owned a lot of it, but then I found myself buying them for her so I could read more. That lead to me reading them in book stores after we broke up and I had not excuse to buy them. Recently I bought a few volumes on a sale rack. I will only buy the original style printings not the cheapo smaller sized ones. I think I may have a problem.

...and that's a glimpse into my awkward life.

daniele_dani_da said...

read maison ikkoku or ramna 1/2, nausicaa, dragon ball, one piece, berserk.
watch evangelion or cowboy bebop.
very good stuff.
I'm in Italy so I don't know what manga you can find in Canada!
Picking random is the worst way to begin.

Anthony said...

as another mostly comics reader who barely steps into manga here are my reccomendations: try tokyo zombie (for crazy funny stuff) shaman king (for a really likeable main character and a really relaxed manga) and beck (for another really likeable protagonist), those should all be in your shop

Daniel said...

If you want to read some good manga, I recommend you read anything from Fanfare-Ponent Mon, especially Times of Botchan by Natsume Soseki and Jiro Taniguchi. Its set just after WWII and is about how a professor decides to write his book and become a full time professional writer. Its two volumes, and its beautiful. Very low key, quiet, and darkly funny. You will not be disappointed.

If you want LAFFFS aplenty, check out What's Michael? Its about a cat and his antics. Its the funniest comic you will ever read. I don't know if its still in print, but its worth tracking down. Buy it.

And speaking of comics you've never read, have you read any Love & Rockets by Los. Bros. Hernandez?

K. D. Bryan said...

I'm not much of a manga reader but I heartily recommend reading "Yotsuba &!". It's an utterly adorable story of a strange little girl and her single dad as she adapts to moving to the big city from the country. I've handed it to non-manga readers and they fell in love too.

"Cowboy Bebop" is also a very good series, even if the manga isn't nearly as funny and awesome as the anime series. There's a goofy girl computer hacker named Ed and a (supposedly) super-intelligent corgi named Ein that'll probably charm the pants off of you.

Erik Hollender said...

Read "Death Note". My sister suddenly started reading the manga, and she's almost done with the series.

It's good size manga series without overstaying it's welcome at only 12 volumes.

Read Death Note! It's awsome!

BTW, first time posting. Absolutely love your blog! Keep putting up good size scans of comics.
And congradulations on getting married!

rachelle said...

Hey guys, thanks for all the recommendations. I will definitely check them all out. I'll be doing the post on girly romance manga soon (I already picked out the books before I got recs from you guys, so don't be offended).

Monster is something that I have wanted to read for awhile since everyone, whether they regularly read manga or not, is crazy about it. I actually have read the first Deathnote book, and I did like it. I'd like to read the rest of the series to see where it goes.

And thanks for explaining Gantz, Eddie. I had returned the book before I wrote the review, so I forgot a lot of the details.

Romance post is coming soon!

Bill D. said...

Like K.D. Bryan, I'm not a big manga fan, either (though I'm slowly finding more I like), but I also heartily endorse Yotsuba&!, as it is pure joy in printed form.

Viagra said...

I will recommend a good Manga for you, Rurouni Kenshin aka Samurai X. It is set on the feudal Japan Circa 1200's. It is about a Samurai known as Himura Kenshin, the Battousai, a murderer, who changes his heart on killing and becames a vagabond. Give it a shot it is awesome.