The Mysterious Underground Men Review

Story and Art by Osamu Tezuka

Published in English by PictureBox (2013), originally published in 1948

Synopsis:

This is the story of a super-intelligent rabbit and a boy who build a railroad car to explore the centre of the Earth. This book chronicles their discoveries, both good and bad.

When I first picked this manga up, I was unsure whether I would find enjoyment out of it. After hearing that it was originally created in the late 1940s, I wanted to experience it from a historical perspective as opposed to any form of entertainment. Surprisingly, this piece was very much enjoyable.  Written in the afterward to the 1984 re-issue of this piece, Tezuka dubbed it his first “story time manga”. He wanted to challenge the major perception of manga at the time – that it was a platform primarily consisting of shallow jokes and laughs. By adding in themes of tragedy and metaphysics, TMUM is not only a significant milestone in Tezuka’s discography, but for the platform in general.

The primary theme explored in this piece is the definition of humanity. Mimio, our sentient rabbit protagonist, struggles to grasp the complexities of his creation and his position in the world. While at the start of the piece he is subjected to rejection by humans, his acts of courage and sacrifice for the betterment of humanity lead to a shift in characterisation. Further, Tezuka explores the relationship (that is constantly strained) between humans and their environment. While the book makes it clear that the humans are good and the monsters are bad, the reader can’t help but feel sorry for them – for it was the humans who were responsible for their exile. It could be argued that humanity is portrayed as a form of parasite, sucking all the nutrients out from the world it resides in. Tezuka, in writing this piece, attempts to promote a more co-existent relationship between humans and their environment, leading to a balanced eco-system.

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While his use of darker themes was groundbreaking at the time, a lot of Tezuka’s work seem to suffer from the same fatal flaw: pacing. Though, in theory, a lot of his storylines sound interesting, the speed at which Tezuka whizzes past complicated themes leaves a lot to be desired. A majority of the time, complex plot points are bluntly tied together by a single panel without appropriately explaining to the reader what is occurring. This led to a lot of confusion in my first read through. This could be attributed to the length of the manga. Most of Tezuka’s works are quite short, so if he wanted to explore all the ideas he has (which he does), it is often necessary that he quickly jumps from plot point to plot point. For example, in one scene, kid scientist John shows Mimio the blueprints for a rail road car he intends on building. In the next page, the car is already partially built and the page after that it is flying off to the nearest mountain. The lack of nuance really affected the quality of the piece, as each page the reader is exposed to a new major plot point, as opposed to fewer story arcs, with more time in between for the reader to adapt and enjoy.

The characters in this piece were very simplistic. Much like the art, characterisation is not a focus for Tezuka, more focused on a rushed look at the world he created within one volume. As such, many characters can be attributed to one trait, such as “bad guy” or “scientist”. This was our first introduction to many characters that would reoccur in Tezuka’s universe, including Mimio and Dr. Ham Egg. Perhaps, knowing these characters would be explored again, Tezuka purposefully left them to be fleshed out in other pieces, but that left the piece in hand with an underwhelming cast. Though, it must be acknowledged that Mimio’s internal conflict was groundbreaking at the time, it leaves much to be desired by today’s standard.

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This piece surprised me in two accounts; the art and it’s ending. For a piece created in 1940s, the art is surprisingly good. While simple in conception, I was impressed at how effective Tezuka’s style was in portraying both landscapes and characters. For example, in one part of the manga, a character is tied up, and must point at another object in the room with his toe. In a modern manga, the artist would likely cut to a chibi rendition of their characters in order to depict such a scene, but Tezuka has no need to break up his style, leaving the reader planted in his universe. I felt giddy with excitement when our protagonists began drilling to the centre of the earth. While I don’t think Tezuka’s extended universe is particularly memorable, the links between all the characters within the piece seem purposeful and valuable and I enjoyed exploring the internal mythos. The ending of this manga caught me by complete surprise. I was taken aback by the direction Tezuka went, but I admire him for it. He was truly ahead of his time. 

The Mysterious Underground Men was an intriguing manga, one that exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. While I wouldn’t recommend it over Tezuka’s other works, it provides insight into his influence on the rest of the medium. If you are a Tezuka fanatic, or just interested in the history of manga, this is a must buy. While I wouldn’t say it was entertained the entire time, it was an interesting read nonetheless.

Art – 7

Story – 6

Writing – 6

Overall – 6.5/10

Image sources: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/12/the-mysterious-underground-men-by-osamu-tezuka.html, https://flimmervielfalt.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/the-mysterious-underground-men/, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/house-of-1000-manga/2014-06-13/ten-cent-manga/.75486, https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/12/the-mysterious-underground-men-by-osamu-tezuka.html\

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Beck Review

Beck
Story and art by Harold Sakuishi
Published in English by Tokyopop (2005, though it went out of business before finishing the series)

Synopsis:

14 year old Yukio Tanaka is an incredibly boring person. He has no hobbies, no interests and essentially no personality. He yearns for an exciting life, but his shyness seems to be his worst enemy. Little does Yukio know that his encounter with Ryusuke Minami, a wild 16 year old from America, would change his life forever. Ryusuke happens to be in a rock band named after his Frankenstein-looking dog Beck. From here, the two descend into the crazy and unpredictable world of music.

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You have to give it to Sakuishi for this ambitious piece: it’s incredibly ballsy to use a medium like manga to try and describe another medium that’s very difficult to encapsulate outside of itself – music. And while this is evident throughout the piece, as many moments seeming a little underwhelming, Beck does a fantastic job at making a soundless platform portray the minute intricacies of music. It’s no wonder this became Sakuishi’s big break.

The story is excellent up until a certain point; then it begins to recycle what were great plot points and becomes a bit repetitive. It’s still enjoyable to read, but nothing new happens, leaving the readers relatively unexcited. However, I was only able to find these flaws after finishing the manga, as I was too engrossed to them notice on my first read. Sakuishi sucks us into a dynamic world, filled with passionate musicians struggling to make ends meet. Watching the complex relationships unfold between bands, their members and the politics within the music industry, was as intriguing to explore as it was fun.

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At the beginning of Beck, the art is very average. The characters are quite basic, and the backgrounds relatively bland. Though the art does develop over time, after 34 volumes I would have expected it to be much more refined. In saying that, there were still some amazing shots, perfectly embodying the intense atmosphere that comes with live performances, whether it was rocking out at sold-out stadiums or dingy underground bars. While, in conventional standard, the art does leave a lot to be desired, the style does have some relevance. Much like the unpolished, rough sounding rock band that we follow throughout this manga, the art is raw and almost incomplete. Yet, it is charming in its own right, oozing personality.

The characters are the highlight in this manga. While the art doesn’t do much for them, their personalities and intricate backstories provide the reader with substance they can grasp onto. We are immediately drawn to these characters, not just because they are cool or edgy, but because they stand out. They have larger than life personalities, something that’s reflected in their performances. Their passion for music, despite being fictitious, inspired me to go out and try my hardest in whatever I do. As the reader, we get to watch the characters grow, not just physically or through their personality, but by the development of their stage craft, which couples nicely with the developing art.

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Overall, the story is a tad too long, and could have been shorter with a more grand finale. Despite this, Beck is a charming manga with many hours of enjoyment locked within. I would recommend this piece to anyone with a love of music, though, you don’t need to be interested in it to fall in love with the characters. It may be repetitive, but I had a blast the entire ride.

Art – 8
Story – 8.5
Writing – 8
Overall – 8.5/10

Image sources:
https://www.pinterest.com.au/kynaro/beck-mongolian-chop-squad/?autologin=true, http://www.punkednoodle.com/champloo/2012/12/04/21-beck-by-harold-, http://beck-mcs.wikia.com/wiki/Yukio_%22Koyuki%22_Tanaka_Gallery

Claymore Review

Claymore
Story and art by Norihigo Yagi
Published by Viz in 2006 (27 volumes)

Synopsis:
In a world where monsters prey on humans in disguise, the only hope for humanity are the “Claymores”. A new type of warrior, half human, half monster, that are able to see through the Yoga’s disguise, as they co-exist among humans. Despite their superhuman abilities, they are condemned by not only savage internal impulses, but the humans who rely on them so much.

To be honest, Claymore does not possess the most unique story imaginable. It takes the classic shonen “warrior vs. monster” plot line and combined it with gender specific classes to create a fairly used idea. However, I suspect Claymore was not created in order to present complex philosophical issues, but rather to engross the reader in an expansive universe filled with interesting characters and creatures. Claymore delivers on this.

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In many gender specific fighting stories, the female body is sexualised more than it needs to be, sometimes turning what could have been a story of female empowerment into pointless belittling.
In Claymore, women are portrayed as both elegant and powerful, a testament to the author and his perception of women. The characters in this manga were exceptional: they were all unique in their own way. I love the trope of having multiple ranked enemies in an evil organisation, and Claymore did not disrespect this shonen tradition. While many of them only developed through fighting, I was surprised at the amount of depth some of the warriors had, with multiple flashbacks linking characters together and creating emotional attachment for the readers. There was a weak theme of discrimination within the piece, as the Claymores were always villainised for their link to the yoma, but it was undeveloped, and ultimately, ineffective in producing any form of effect.

The art was also fantastic. The unique personalities and abilities of the Claymore’s were further emphasised with their creative designs, which really furthered its effect. The designs for the monsters were very cool, except for the basic yoma. I know they had to be simple, but ones that were a tad more unique would have made it much scarier, and considering how frequently they appeared in the manga, it would have made the stakes feel a lot higher.

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Unfortunately, the storyline can be too simple at some points and at others too complex. There is one point where the reader is alerted to an incredibly important revelation that effects the entire universe that Yagi’s created. It’s super confusing, and once it’s revealed it’s never touched on again, adding nothing to the overarching story, and just making the quality of this manga inconsistent. Towards the end of the piece, Claymore also begins to lose some steam, falling into repetitive traps that is inevitable for a manga of that length. However, I commend Yagi for ending his manga series soon after, as opposed to riding the popularity train through another twenty volumes of the same thing. In this sense, the ending itself is more satisfying, and ultimately leaves the reader on a high.

Overall, Claymore achieves what a good shonen manga should; it provides us with an expansive world filled with many interesting and well designed characters. However, its convoluted plot and standard narrative hinders its ability to provide a compelling story. It is very much a shonen manga, not challenging any of the negative traits within the genre nor adding anything unique to solve them. It’s a fun and addictive read nonetheless.

I would recommend Claymore to all manga readers, particularly those who enjoy the shonen genre, including all of its tropes and archetypes. Because of this, Claymore is an excellent introduction to manga, as it maintains a classic structure synonymous with medium. If you are looking for a manga that’s going to make you think about the intricacies of the universe, I’d put this on the back burner until you’re in the mood for exciting action.

Art – 9
Story – 7
Writing – 8
Overall – 8/10

Image sources: http://www.nerdophiles.com/2015/04/14/meas-thoughts-on-claymore/, https://www.reddit.com/r/manga/comments/2mso7q/tried_my_best_at_turning_claymore_155_p3_into_a/, http://claymore.wikia.com/wiki/File:Claymore_Chapter_34_Cover.jpg

The Town the Stars Fall Upon Review

The Town the Stars Fall Upon (Hoshi no Furu Machi)

Story and Art by Hidenori Hara

Published by Young Sunday (2006, 7 volumes)

Synopsis:

The story follows Koutarou Tsutsumi, a senior high school student who moves from Tokyo to the country to live with his relatives, spending his final year before college there. Depressed by his situation, an encounter with his neighbour Nagisa changes his “tomorrow” little by little.

To be honest, I found this manga by complete accident. I was searching for another manga, and this piece popped up on my screen (due to my terrible typing). Instead of correcting my mistake and finding the manga I was looking for, I was enticed by the artwork. Its story was intriguing, so I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed.

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The manga starts off a bit slow, and fairly typical for a manga in the romance genre. Our protagonist enters a new environment, meets female love interest almost immediately, and from there, romance begins to bloom. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how complex the main character was. He was very fleshed out, having various issues that must be dealt with in order for him to achieve happiness. These difficulties include parental pressure, career aspects, social perception, adjusting to a new town and exploring potential romance. The character felt relatively authentic, a refreshing punch to the parameters of this genre.

Aside from the two main characters, there aren’t too many others that would be considered developed. This is to be expected when the focus is only placed on a few characters darting around a relationship. However, I would have liked a few more characters that could have shared experiences with the protagonist, as I can remember a total of 4 characters from this manga, and its only been a couple days since I read it. While it focuses a lot on the protagonist’s struggles, he doesn’t whine as much as other manga. He genuinely learns and develops as a person, which makes the story more satisfying, even though he can be a dick at times. While his behaviour did detract from his initial character at times, it was better than having a predicable weak protagonist; this one was able to make decisions, even at the expense of another’s feelings.

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Though I was originally enticed by the art, at times it was a bit lacklustre. The art that was present was great – I really enjoy Hara’s style. However, a large portion of background panels were left blank. It definitely detracted from the story, as it took me out of the piece quite a few times. It was like an eject button whenever I focused in on the background. The manga didn’t seem unfinished, but it seemed a bit lazy. The length of the piece was very good. It was long enough that I was able to become invested in characters, but not long enough where it became repetitive.

Overall, “The Town the Stars Fall Upon” was a pleasant surprise, a fun and interesting romance manga that defies some of the romance genre tropes, though is still limited by many.

Art – 8

Story – 8

Writing – 7

Overall – 7.5/10

Image sources: http://www.mangareader.net/hoshi-no-furu-machi/47, http://www.mangareader.net/hoshi-no-furu-machi/32/13, http://www.mangareader.net/hoshi-no-furu-machi/12

Seeds of Anxiety Review

Seeds of anxiety (Faun no tane)

  • Story and art by Masaaki Nakayama
  • Yet to be published in english
  • Published in Japanese by Akita shoten in 2004 (3 volumes)

Synopsis:

Faun no Tane is a three volume horror series primarily comprised of short vignettes. These stories explore various urban legends and superstitions, and ultimately their effects on surrounding characters.    

After hearing about this piece, I was quite intrigued. Instead of creating a coherent story, Nakayama only utilises around ten pages to create multiple sub-plots throughout the manga, most of which are completely unrelated. I appreciated the concept; the author tried to make a short story that is just as engrossing as a longer series. If Nakayama was able to engross the reader in only a handful of pages, within minutes take these characters away, and repeat this process over and over again, the reader would experience intense emotional trauma. After reading thirty pages (equivalent to 3 stories), the reader would be emotionally drained from their experiences. A work like that would have explored the parameters of not only the medium, but of contemporary story telling. Unfortunately, this piece does not accomplish its goal.

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There is not much of a storyline in this manga, which is to be expected, as it is comprised of multiple short stories. However, what little storyline that could be discerned in each piece became a repetitive trope in each story. Though a weak story line on its own can be forgiven if other elements, such as suspense, are emphasised, there was no development of characters, and as such I had no reason to fear for any of their lives. It was also too quick for an atmosphere to be built, making some climaxes almost tedious, as opposed to shocking. It should be noted that some vignettes were designed to be like this; just random reflections that end in some ghoul popping out. However, due to its formulaic set up, not much can be said for its scare factor.

However, this piece did live up to its name. Each story did make me feel slightly anxious. Though it wan’t powerful enough to evoke panic attacks, each story made me feel uncomfortable enough that the feeling stuck with me throughout the entire manga.

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This manga’s saving grace is its art. Even when endings where predictable, genuinely disturbing art made up for it. Some stories I found hard to get through, but when I reached the end some piece of art or creature drawn gave me goosebumps. As I’m writing this, I’ve looked up art from the manga to refresh my memory, and without context they are all still genuinely disturbing. There were some very uniquely drawn monsters that tap into many of my fears. I was interested to research some of these creatures to see whether or not they were monsters created by the author or part of Japanese folklore. I think that if my knowledge of Japanese myths was more advanced, maybe some of these stories would have had more of an effect on me. 

I also appreciate that it employed the technique of  ‘show don’t tell’ . While a lot of the time it made me more confused, a few stories made me pause to think about what just happened, and how its motive could be applied to the outer world it was created in. 

Overall, Faun no Tane is a quick little read, with great art, scary creations and an ambitious story telling style, but no grasping features meant that I forgot it relatively quickly. Its eerie atmosphere, however, did leave me unsettled for a while after finishing it.

Art – 8

Story – 7

Writing – 6

Overal – 7/10

Image Sources: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/FuanNoTane, http://www.bogleech.com/halloween/hall12-fuan.html, https://www.tumblr.com

My Top 10 Manga

Hi Everyone,

Before diving into my list, I just wanted to draw your attention to a few things. For one, I’ve realised writing this piece that it’s so hard to compare manga at all. Each individual piece aims to evoke different feelings in the reader, and attach certain emotions to the manga itself. How does one go about comparing a one volume sci-fi manga to a fifteen volume romance series? In spite of this, I’ve done my best to rank my favourites in the most objective order I can, using criteria that I believe all manga should follow. While I do explain why each manga is so phenomenal, and do my best to justify its place on this list, I will post my actual marking criteria for reviewing manga in a future blog (this one is already very, very long). These rankings may change over time, either due to new manga favourites emerging or me re-reading certain series on this list. It’s also important to note that all these manga series are completed. In order to provide a holistic view on the quality of a series as a whole, I don’t really like writing reviews for ongoing manga. And with that out-of-the-way, lets discuss my top 10 favourite manga of all time!

10. The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana)

                    Story and art by Shuzo Oshimi

                Published in english by Vertical (11 Volumes)

Synopsis: The story follows Kasuga Takao, a middle schooler obsessed with Bauldaire’s “The Flowers of Evil”. When he goes to collect the book from class after school, he sees Saeseki Nanako, his “muse’s” gym clothes. On a whim, he decides to steal them. From here, Takao’s decent through adolescence takes an unpredictable turn, with new girl Nakamura spotting him take them. As their relationship blossoms, so does the flowers of evil.

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When I first started reading the manga, I didn’t like it. There were a few parts that really turned me off from it, and it was my third time attempting to read it in which I made it all the way through. I’m all for giving characters odd or destructive behaviours to make a point or to create an intended effect, but some of these were just too strange for me to ascribe any meaning to. There were quite a few psycho-sexual parts which left me shaking my head, thinking this was creator trying to make something deep through unecessary shock value.

However, as the story continued, and the characters revealed more about themselves, I realised it was all necessary. You could attribute these moments to the main character’s obsession towards a piece of writing that was much too advanced for him. It resulted in him misguiding his angst in weird ways due to a misinterpretation of the book, which I did appreciate. It was an ambitious attempt to embody teen anxiety and hatred in a way never done before. Though I couldn’t relate to a lot of the protagonists behaviours, I could relate to his feelings of frustration about life.

Despite the rocky start, I continued reading it, and I’m so glad I did. The second half of this manga is absolutely perfect. It embodied the shift from child to adolescent, and the angst one wades through on the path to adulthood. And for our protagonist, the path to redemption. During this part, I truly felt for the protagonist. He shed his whiny character and began to seriously develop. I could really relate to his struggles, trying to balance family troubles, friendships, hobbies and figuring out what he wants to do. This manga seemed to blend multiple genres, slice of life, seinen, romance and tragedy. However, it never felt like the piece lacked consistency, and only added to the unpredictability of it.

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The art got progressively better, culminating into some very engrossing scenes. At first, the characters were drawn quite poorly, but during the second part of the manga, there is visible improvement in Oshimi’s art. While it wasn’t the strongest point of this piece, it was still good.

I was both hooked and unable to predict what was going to happen throughout the whole of The Flowers of Evil. Not only did it have me addicted, afterwards, it left me with a wide range of feelings. But above all, it made me want to read more manga, so I could experience how this manga made me feel all over again. For those intimidated to continue reading after the first few chapters, I implore you to do so. It’s definitely anything but your standard slice of life, but it is a unique experience that should be implored for its ambitious story telling and vivid imagery.

Art – 8

Story – 9

Writing – 9

Overall – 8.7/10

9. Seraphim:266613336 Wings

Story by Mamoru Oishii, Art by Satoshi Kon

Published in english by Dark Horse (1 volume)

Synopsis: This manga is the story of a future Earth ravaged by the “Angel Plague”, a pandemic that causes its victims to morph into angelic forms while being afflicted with post-apocalyptic visions. The story follows a medical unit that journeys into the devastated asian continent in order to explore the cause of the plague, and its link to a little girl.tumblr_omc0spLFQN1slx60do1_1280.png

Seraphim was the first one volume manga I read that hit me as hard as a full length series had. I went in knowing of Kon’s involvement, but not realising that Oishii was also involved in this project. I loved Ghost in the Shell, and I’m glad I didn’t know until after I finished, as it didn’t influence my feelings towards it. Though it wouldn’t have, considering how much I loved this manga.

While the story wasn’t particularly unique (classic post-apocalyptic plot), being similar to manga like “Akira” and “Eden its and endless world”, the idea of a plague making the suffered look like angels really intrigued me. Though I know there was religious symbolism linked to it, it didn’t really make me think about external themes. I was too engrossed in the pictures before me. I just loved the imagery. Kon’s art is as fantastic as ever, and the depictions of the ailed are as beautiful as they are depressing. Like all his works, I felt like I was reading a movie.

The writing in this piece is fantastic too. While the start is quite slow, it really picks up around the half way mark, and I really got into the plot. The world that the authors created was expansive and detailed, and I found myself engrossed in the theme. It isn’t often that I genuinely feel trapped in a post-apocalyptic manga, but I felt anxious for the characters. I could not wait to continue reading through their journey.

And that’s where I ran into a massive problem. The only reason that this piece couldn’t be rated any higher was because of its unfinished status. I tried so hard to look at the piece holistically, just reviewing what I had in front of me. But I just couldn’t help but think of the potential there could have been. I understand the reason it ended was due to creative differences, and then Kon’s abrupt death to pancreatic cancer, but I can’t help think about what could have been if the stars had all aligned. sera p006.jpg

There was, however, a surprising gift at the end of this book. English manga adapter Carl Gustav Horn provides an insightful essay at the end of this piece which is worth a read on its own. In it, an account for the authors background and behind the scenes of Seraphim is provided, which adds some closure to the piece. He then goes on further to discuss the manga industry as a whole, which I really enjoyed. Seraphim was an incredibly gripping post apocalyptic tale. Despite its abrupt ending, it is a still an amazing stand alone piece. I genuinely believe that if it had a few more volumes created, I would have enjoyed it more than Akira.

 

Art – 9

Writing – 9

Story – 9

Overall – 8.8/10

8. Death Note

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Story by Tsugumi Ohba, Art by Takeshi Obata  

 Published in english by Viz (12 Volumes)

Synopsis: Light Yagami is considered a genius. He has the top grades in school, athletivally gifted, but also bored out of his mind. This changes when Light finds the Death Note, the most powerful weapon of mass destruction ever concieved. Any person whose name is written in the Death Note will die. We watch Light attempt to rid the world of evil, while the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. Their game of cat and mouse is the focus of this story.

Aside from one other manga (which will be discussed in another review), Death Note is the only piece which I think has the perfect start to a manga. I was hooked from page one, engrossed in both the mysterious world of the shinigami and the human world it connects to.

This manga is incredible for a number of reasons. For me, the strongest part of Death Note is its writing. The Death Note as a concept seems Over powered. There is no other manga where a weapon so powerful is given to the protagonist in the first couple of pages. So I was interested as to how the creators were going to make this series interesting when our protagonist, Light Yagami, can kill anyone in a matter of seconds.

However, a complex rivalry between our protagonist and the great detective L kept me enthralled throughout the piece. Though it can be attributed to excellent writing, the intellectual battle between a complex network of characters not only led to an engrossing plot, but a strong set of characters. The memorable characters that Death Note contain not only have substance to them, but have become standalone cult icons outside the manga. The art is fantastic too. It is highly detailed at precise moments, humanising the characters through the use of complex emotions and highlighting the scale of Light’s destruction. Further, the imagery used really struck the reader with the complex moral themes that were also being explored throughout the piece.

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I love a manga that is not only enjoyable, but also makes me think. Death Note poses an interesting moral dilemma; whether ridding the world of criminals through killing them is morally acceptable. Was Light’s actions unjustified? Is the young vigilante nothing more than a defender of justice? I think that’s up to each individual to decide, but the creators do a great job in showing both sides of the argument, and showing Light in a different… well, lights. It gives the reader breathing room to discuss with each other what really is the right thing to do. This also helped develop the characters, as their motives transformed from black and white to a dull grey.

Unfortunately, this manga is not consistently brilliant. The second half of the manga is both lacklustre and repetitious. The new characters that are introduced are carbon copies of previous ones, though ultimately worse than their predecessors. The ending itself wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have the bite that would have been possible if the series had been ended after the first half.

Despite a dip in quality, Death Note will forever be a staple of Shonen manga. Its exploration of complex themes and intense imagery leads to an incredibly engrossing read. Coupled with a cast of memorable characters and unique use of intellectual action makes Death Note an outstanding manga.

Art -10

Story – 7

Writing – 10

Overall – 8.9/10

7. Angel Densetsu

Angel_Densetsu_vol15.jpgStory and art by Norihiro Yagi

Yet to be published in english (15 volumes in Japanese)

Synopsis: Angel Densetsu follows Kitano Seiichirou, an incredibly kind and pure-hearted individual. Unfortunately, he also posses a monstrous face, which makes everyone around him perceive the young man as an evil delinquent. Through a string of misunderstandings, he is appointed the role of “school guardian” (head thug on campus).

I have a personal affection for high school manga. I loved high school, and reading manga like this, depicting the subtilties that come with school life, leave me with a wave a nostalgia. However, none come close to effecting me the way Angel Densetsu did. To think, such a simple concept could lead to such a genre defining piece.

Normally, I’d cringe at any chapter focusing on misunderstandings, let alone a whole manga dedicated to it. However, this piece was able to incorporate the idea very well, making it both humorous and fresh throughout the piece. There were times when I’d role my eyes over the incompetence of our protagonist, unable to get out of the simplest of situations. For the most part though, this manga’s plot line was consistent and well written. When a love interest is introduced, the manga gets even better, with new reasons to love the characters and the high school setting.

The characters are definitely the highlight of this manga. While each falls victim to our protagonists evil looks, they have their own individual goals and personalities, which I found enjoyable to experience. Though basic at times, the adventures the characters went through solidified their bond more so than in other manga, leaving the reader with the perception these fictitious characters really did share a special connection. This manga was genuinely funny, having me laugh out loud at multiple points throughout my read. However, repetition is present in this piece, particularly due to the theme of misunderstandings, though it wasn’t prevalent enough to bother me.

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The art in this piece was also surprisingly good. At first, the simplicity of the characters was a bit discouraging, but as the story progresses so to does the art. The landscape scenes were phenomenal, and I had one particular page as my screensaver for a very long time. The art isn’t perfect, but that in itself reinforces the simple motif that this manga is based on; don’t judge something by its looks.

A phenomenal manga, one I can’t believe has not been released in english. I hope that one day is gets the recognition it deserves, as being one of the best high school manga ever created.

Art – 7

Story – 10

Writing – 10

Overall – 9.1/10

6. Dragon Ball

Story and Art by Akira Toryama

Published in english by Viz (15 Volumes)

Synopsis: This manga follows the adventures of Goku, a young boy who goes on a journey in search of the 7 dragon balls, which can summon a wish granting dragon when collected. We also follow his martial art journey, as he aims to become the greastest fighter in the world.

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Dragon ball is the inspiration for almost all shonen manga to come after it. Every aspect of this manga, in its most basic form, has created archetypes that the genre still uses to this day. Despite being simple in art and story, it has become a cult icon, over 30 years after its initial creation.

Not only does Toriyama create a plethora of likeable characters, he creates an expansive universe. When I think of characters from Dragon Ball, so many spring to mind, all unique in their own right. Unfortunately, Dragon Ball’s simplicity is a double edged sword. Many characters seem underdeveloped. Instead of having multiple layers, many people within the Dragon Ball universe have simple personalities, with single traits or goals that motivate them. Further, besides change in size, and certain characters having refined martial art techniques, there isn’t much character development throughout the piece.

The art in Dragon Ball is also quite simple. Most characters are very basically designed, and many landscapes seem quite crudely drawn too. However, the art reflects the maturity of our protagonist. As Goku grows up, more details are made to the character and world depicted around him. This ultimately leads to the sequel, Dragon ball Z, having very detailed art, with characters almost overdeveloped at times. Instead of letting the simplicity hinder his work, Toryama made it part of his style, while slowly refining his technique. His ability to take very simple concepts and artwork and turn it into an epic similar to those depicted in Homeric poems is a testament to his genius.

Dragon Ball is very easy to read, and re-read. However, its simplicity can lead to repetitiveness, with not much insightful storytelling occurring. During my first read, I never had a problem with it. By my third or fourth read, though, I was able to distinguish certain patterns that repeats in each sub-arc. Even when identifying this, however, I had a lot of fun reading. While it didn’t leave me pondering moral dilemmas, I was able to appreciate the incredible journey I had just gone on.9651c2aea6d39d6d4247ae7d907c0659.jpg

The writing, while simple, differentiates between maturation levels of characters. Goku, as a child, speaks quite naively. Older characters, such as Roshi and Yamcha have a better grasp of reality. In saying this, all characters are quite silly, and will never be remembered for their complexity. I still found some of the martial artists incredibly cool, even with simplistic dialogue and art. Unfortunately, Dragon ball Z ruined what little character development made in Dragon Ball; where the story went seemed like a necessary step in expanding the universe, but made this part of the series seem a bit redundant, as most characters became ridiculously weak.

Dragon ball is the ultimate shonen journey. It is the original epic that most shonen mangaka aspire to create. The simplicity of the manga reflects the protagonist, but can be a hinderance at point. However, this classic pioneered the genre, and should be read by anyone who wants a fun time.

Art – 8

Story – 10

Writing – 9

Overall – 9.2/10

5. Maison Ikkoku

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Story and Art by Rumiko Takahashi 

Published in English by Viz (15 volumes, now out of print)     

Synopsis: The story surrounds the “nuttiest” apartment house in all of Japan, “Maison Ikkou”, filled with volatile inhabitants. Though, we follow Yusaku Godai, the exam-addled college student and Kyoko, the mysterious new apartment manager.

Personally, I prefer manga that are able to encapsulate the subtleties of life rather than create detailed fantasy worlds. If one is able to portray the mundanity of life, it adds an appreciation to these smaller things. I find myself spotting them in my own life, and realising that I have been taking them for granted all this time. Maison Ikkoku has a simple slice of life storyline with romantic themes weaved throughout it. Due to the simplicity of the plot, Takahashi relies on the characters to add substance and interest to the piece, which they do. I was surprised at how much the characters, and story, stuck with me.

The art is simple but unique, characterised by the classic Takahashi style that has delighted readers for decades. Without out being given descriptions of our characters, the reader can already tell what they are like. This is partly due to cookie-cutter designs, but also due to Takahashi’s subtle way of drawing behaviour. For example, the more promiscuous characters have sly smiles and open body language. The range of characters was notable, though not incredible. I definitely preferred the side characters than the protagonist and love interest, despite there only being a few. The characters aren’t particularly developed, but, unlike other manga, I didn’t bother me at all. I think that the actions of the characters were realistic enough, which made there actions seem indicative of their personality rather than repetitious.

Unlike Takahashi’s similar works such as “Ranma 1/2”, Maison Ikkoku is the perfect 33488303c998b5082373f709d6cdcf14--manga-drawing-drawing-ideas.jpglength. I feel like I’ve been on a journey with the characters, without repetition or filler chapters. The dreaded “misunderstanding” chapters are still present, but even in these slower chapters progression always feels like its being made. The piece was balanced, with no rushed parts or inconsistent story arcs. Similar to the story, the writing in this piece is simple, yet effective. It’s not trying to discuss incredibly profound topics, just real people developing genuine relationships. And I think Takahashi portrays the subtleties of daily life perfectly.                         

This piece really surprised me. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy it, and how much of an effect it would have on me. This has to be the ultimate romance manga. It’s a beautiful love story with great characters, good pacing and a satisfying ending, as well as being a great introduction to the Takahashi library. This manga is a relaxing read which left me pondering my relationships afterwards.

Art – 9.1

Story – 10

Writing – 9.1

Overall – 9.2/10

4. Akira

Story and Art by Katsuhiro Otomo

Published in English by Kodansha (6 Volumes)

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Synopsis: Akira is set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, built on the ashes of an apocalyptic blast that started World War III. It follows gang members Testsuo and Kaneda. When paranormal abilities begin to awaken within Tetsuo, he becomes the target of a government organisation trying to prevent another catastrophe within Neo-Tokyo. Though, their inherent fear comes from a monstrous power, known only as “Akira”.

Everyone knows about Akira. This manga is on everyones “read” or “to-read” list. The film adaptation of the manga only solidified its already pronounced legacy. This piece really is a testament to how powerful this art form really is.

There is so much to talk about Akira, but if you’ve ever read a manga top ten list before, you probably have an idea of how incredible it is. Before even becoming a movie, the manga had a cinematic feel to it. Absolutely breathtaking art combined with intelligent panel placement left the reader sucked into a post-apocalyptic delight. The pacing of this manga is also outstanding. Whether or not the story has the protagonist battling evily-dimwitted government officials or roaming through the sewers of Neo-Tokyo, a clear stream of events is in play. I have never been quite fond of manga in this genre, but this piece truly challenged my beliefs in regards to the medium of manga itself.

As mentioned previously, the art is phenomenal. Not only were characters drawn in painstaking detail, but the various environments were created perfectly. If a nuclear bomb were to destroy an entire country, I imagine that the outcome would look almost identical to Otomo’s vision. Otomo also created an incredible world, filled with a range of diverse characters. Being the first mangaka to notably incorporate influences from outside the manga medium, Otomo utilised the styles of french comic artists to create a new level or realism to his piece.

bc65a89d344407fa1a702987f309faa4--akira-tetsuo-akira-manga.jpgThat being said, the characters didn’t develop much. The way that each person was separated from others seemed to be through either attire or powers. Though it’s easy to overlook, I finished the manga not really knowing anything about any of the characters I had been reading about for over 6 books, which made them relatively forgettable. There also seemed to be a large amount of tropes used (e.g. Government agent being perceived as both incompetent and evil), possibly due to the time of the manga’s creation.

Despite disappointing characters, the story itself is incredible. A true epic which explored profound themes, including the ever-increasing influence of technology, corruption within leadership, biker gangs and, most importantly, how war is able to completely stump the development of nations. Amidst all this chaos, Otomo is able to integrate the daily lives of people affected by the surrounding anarchy. In spite of its dated character design, Akira is a near perfect creation; it’s able to be violent, yet educative, emotional, yet deeply profound. There is a reason this post modern classic is still discussed to this day, and its impact yet to fade into the past.

Art – 10

Story – 10

Writing – 9

Overall – 9.5/10

3. Pluto

Art by Naoki Urasawa, Original Story by Osamu Tezuka

Published in englished by Viz (8 volumes)

Synopsis: Someone, or something is destroying the seven most powerful robots in the world, one after the other. Their brutal dismantlement seems out of nowhere, causing widespread fear in the public. Gesicht, one of the seven and a commended detective embarks on a mission to capture the killer.

I began reading Pluto after I’d taken a long break from manga. It was at a time in my life where I was quite busy, and struggling to balance my hobbies, education and social life. On a whim, I picked this piece up just to pass the time before I was to begin studying later that day. Pluto, in one fell swoop, completely revitalised my love for manga. It felt so refreshing in a weird sense; I felt like all the tropes found within manga had disappeared, and I was reading a completely unique piece. Pluto is without a doubt my favourite Urawasa manga.

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Pluto has an incredible story line and concept, though some of this can be attributed to Osamu Tezuka, whose work was the source material. As his art style is arguably dated, I always wondered what it would be like if Tezuka had been brought up in this era of manga creation and how his art would have changed. It was very interesting to see this through the use of Urasawa’s incredible art, which definitely did the plot justice. It really encapsulated the bleak and hopeless mood permeating around the characters.

This piece did a great job at discussing the ethics around robotics. The story depicts many robots filled with compassion and sadness, sometimes even more than the human characters. As opposed to love being what blurs the line between human and robot, Urasaw/Tezuka opted for an equally powerful emotion, regret. The characters are so emotional, you forget sometimes that they aren’t really human.

I was originally sceptical of reading this, as I knew it was an adapted story arc from the Astro Boy series. Though I’ve never read it myself, I wondered what more Urasawa could bring to an already iconic piece. Well, I can admit I was totally wrong. All the characters are adapted perfectly; Urasawa has created unique characters with interesting backstories, while staying faithful to Tezuka’s works (from the snippets of Astro Boy I read, after finishing Pluto). Further, his art accentuates the darker themes that Tezuka explored in the original piece. The simplistic art style made conveying more serious themes difficult, noticeable in a handful of Tezuka works, but Urasawa highlights these darker sub plots with his art. Pluto, despite its origins, can definatley hold itself up as a standalone piece.

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Unfortunately, Urasawa has a habit of overcomplicating his plots. This is also true in Pluto. While switching between different characters, the plot becomes a bit blurred, and towards the end of the piece I forgot what the original mystery was. In spite of this, the story had great pacing. There was enough substance within the manga to get me invested before slapping me across the face with an emotional twist, leaving me hooked after the first chapter. The ending was satisfying to the reader, and ultimately, would have left Tezuka proud. This manga was incredible, ticking the boxes every manga should. A must read for all enthusiasts of the genre.

Art: 9

Story: 10

Writing: 9

Overall: 9.6/10

1421537729.jpg2.  Cross Game

Story and art by Mitsuru Adachi                          

Published in english by Viz (8 omnibus volumes)

Synopsis: Kitamura Koh has known the Tsukishima family for years. One of the Tsukishima daughters was even born on the exact same date as Koh! What will become of Koh when his best friend is no longer around? A tale of love, growth, and baseball.

In my opinion, Cross game is without  a doubt the ultimate slice of life manga. It blends heartbreak, passion, determination and success in a perfect way while portraying daily life in all its mundanity, taking me on an emotional journey.

It takes the theme of tragedy, which is inherently negative, and highlights how it strengthens a community and the bond between people. A large portion of the characters reminisce about the tragedy that occurred in their childhood, and use it as a cornerstone to develop as people. Which they do. All characters have been meticulously created, all likeable and inherently human. In a genre where character archetypes are very common, these characters seemed to stand up as 3 dimensional people.

The art was simple, and that’s great, because it didn’t need to do anything else. While I’m an advocate for great art (as I assume most manga readers are) I also understand that art as a trait is used for different reasons. In Cross game, art is used in a more simplistic manner, not too complicated, yet it still stays with me to this day. It was created to portray childhood perceptions, adolescence and personal development. Though the art style doesn’t change, it still makes the reader feel like the characters have evolved, which is highly commendable.

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A important point I want to make; as an Australian reader, I am totally unaware of the intricacies of baseball, nor am I a fan. Yet, I still loved all the sporting elements, even when I didn’t totally understand what was going on. It strips baseball to its simplest form, and on the field is where our protagonists develops most, giving it an important role in the manga.

In the 8 volumes that Cross game made up, I felt like I grew up with these characters; we laughed together, cried together and refined ourselves together. While there were time jumps, they were not frequent enough to be annoying or confusing. Rather, they were helpful in emphasising character development, particularly when the art didn’t develop.

Ultimately, this manga did everything I wanted it to do; it captured my attention and made me feel whatever it wanted. I was legitimately in the palm of the author’s hand. This is an amazing manga, and any slice of life fan must read this to truly understand what the genre is able to produce. This near perfect piece is a testament to the emotive capabilities of manga.

Art – 9

Story – 10

Writing – 10

Overall – 9.8/10

 

1. A drifting life (Gekiga Hyouryuu)

Story and Art by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Published in english by Drawn and Quarterly (One Volume)

Synopsis: A drifting life is an autobiographical piece created by the “grandfather of alternative manga” Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It explores his struggles, decisions, and ultimately, his love for manga.041509_adriftinglife02.jpg

This manga is perfect. A story rich with issues, development and success. I was totally engrossed reading this piece, and when I wasn’t reading this manga, I was thinking about reading it. A Drifting Life left me with a touching experience, and a deeper love for manga.

Though an autobiography, it was still a genuine and unbiased piece; the protagonist was just as flawed as he was successful. Tatsumi goes as far as to change the names of all the characters in his piece, as to make it less awkward for himself (how humble!). These creations are probably the most extraordinary part of this piece. While they themselves do not possess superhuman abilities, they are just so real. Sometimes I found myself taking a step back and realising these are all fictitious characters. Though they were all based off of real people, the ability to recreate life on static pieces of paper is indicative of Tasumi’s genius.

In an autobiographical manga, pacing is especially important. Too slow and the reader becomes bored/uninterested, but too quick and the reader has no time to become attached to the life they are now following. Amongst other things, this was done perfectly in A drifting life. I honestly felt like I was part of the Tatsumi family, jumping up for joy at their achievements and feeling depressed when misfortune plagued the family. I have never felt this way about any other manga before, and it was an unbelievable experience. The transitions were so smooth, as if I was watching a movie. What felt like minutes reading became hours. To be this engrossed with any type of stimuli seemed impossible to me. It was like a spell had been cast on me. I genuinely believed I was drifting alongside our protagonist through life’s struggles.

One of the ways Tatsumi employs progression in his story is by referencing historical events at specific dates, updating us on the years and events occurring at the time. Tatsumi goes into painstaking detail, exploring both pop culture and events of historical significance. It was a brilliant way to set the scene/break up sub plots. I felt like reading the manga was an educational experience, and that I was developing as a person along with the times.

tatsumi_y_from_0209_14.jpgThe only part of this piece I was unsure about coming in was the art. A large amount of older mangakas employ a more simplistic art style, which is indicative of the time they were creating manga. There’s nothing wrong with simpler art, but sometimes it does detract from the story or ability to be completely emerged in this piece. However, my assumptions were quickly put to rest. The designs were simple, yet powerful – it was manga stripped to its simplest form and it worked so well. Towards the start, I did have a difficult time differentiating some of the characters. However, after becoming attached to the characters, it was easy to see who was who. Despite its simplicity, the art could become incredibly detailed too, producing very realistic interpretations of key figures in history.

Not only was A drifting Life an amazing manga, it was a surreal experience for me. Irrelevant of your familiarity with manga, everyone should read this piece. It not only highlights the parameters of the medium, but it also deepened my infatuation with it. I can’t wait to forget this manga, so I can re-read it all over again!

Art – 10

Story – 10

Writing – 10

Overall – 10/10

And there you have it. Thank you so much for reading! Look out for more reviews in the future. 

Luke.

Image sources:

Flowers of evil: Image sources: http://qmanga.com/mangareader/aku-no-hana/reader?page=45, http://www.mangapanda.com/aku-no-hana/33/22, http://smithsonianapa.org/bookdragon/the-flowers-of-evil-vols-8-9-by-shuzo-oshimi-translated-by-paul-starr/

Seraphim: Image sources: https://au.pinterest.com/pin/412009065893911546/?lp=true, http://www.gramunion.com/tagged/mamoru%20oshii?n=1488772595

Death Note: https://www.viz.com/blog/posts/manga-death-note-twisted-justice-637, http://goodokbad.com/index.php/reviews/death_note_review

Angel Densetsu: http://www.mangareader.net/angel-densetsu/7/26, https://www.google.com.au/url?s, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_Densetsu

Dragon Ball: http://neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?p=49506072, https://au.pinterest.com/pin/142144931967481660/?lp=true

Maison ikkoku: http://au.ign.com/blogs/monkeyswithguns/2013/04/23/manga-showcase-spotlight-backlog-2-maison-ikkoku, https://au.pinterest.com/pin/182958803590186097/?lp=true

Akira: http://www.mangareader.net/akira/1/280, https://au.pinterest.com/explore/akira-tetsuo/?lp=true, https://www.forbes.com/sites/olliebarder/2017/10/12/taika-waititi-does-not-want-to-whitewash-akira-and-it-looks-like-he-has-read-the-manga-as-well/#6dc6d9794f88

Pluto: http://comicsalliance.com/astro-boy-pluto-comparison/, http://goodokbad.com/index.php/reviews/pluto_review

Cross Game: http://goodokbad.com/index.php/reviews/cross_game_vols_1_and_2_review

A Drifting life: http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/graphic-lit/from-a-drifting-life , http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/04/15/a-drifting-life/

 

 

Introduction Blog

Hi everyone,

My name is Luke, and recently I finished reading my one hundredth manga series. Manga is such an amazing medium. It utilises unique techniques to create compelling and engrossing stories. Some of my experiences reading manga will be my fondest in life, and it has made me feel in ways no other medium has. Out of my love for manga, I’ve decided to review each of these 100 series. While this project will be rewarding in itself, as I love talking about manga, it does have other purposes.

While I will be starting this project with my top ten manga of all time, I feel that many manga are not given enough attention. Manga like ‘Dragon Ball’ and ‘Berserk’ are phenomenal, and should be treated as such. However, it seems that other amazing pieces are left without much air time. By reviewing every manga I’ve read, it allows me to discuss great manga that lie just outside my favourites. It makes me happy that I can give some much needed respect to these commendable series.

Another reason for creating this blog is to introduce readers to different or obscure manga that may have very little exposure. In my 8+ years of reading manga, I’ve discovered many series by accident or by taking a chance, and many of these decisions have paid off. I now have a platform where I can promote old, obscure and incredibly weird reads, and hopefully recommend manga that other people will enjoy. Because, ultimately, though manga is amazing, it’s the community surrounding it that’s also so important.

So, how this blog will work:

I’m going to release my top 10 favourite manga of all time in one massive list. From there, I will periodically release the other 90 manga reviews. The only stipulation with the list is that only completed series will be on it. Though I have read many ongoing series, I don’t want to write a review on them without a completely holistic view, which isn’t possible without reading it all. In general, it also wouldn’t be as accurate, or respectful to said manga. And after this project… Who knows? Hopefully I’ll have read a ton more manga to review too! I hope that you all support me on this new journey, and I can’t wait to meet new, like minded people who love manga just as much as I do! 🙂

 

 

Image sources

From the manga “A Drifting Life” – http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2015/03/08-1/a-drifting-life-author-yoshihiro-tatsumi-passes-away-at-79