Saturday 2 February 2013

I know nothing about Manga but...

I got a stack of Manga for Christmas, so I'm going to do a quick review of what I've been reading.

MW - Osamu Tezuka

It's Tezuka who got me excited about Manga. There's something about the tone of his books that is pitch perfect. The dark stuff doesn't need to wear a cloak and be painfully serious, the sex doesn't exploit the characters in a pornographic way,  the humour comes from the goofiness of the personalities, the horror comes from the situation not from gore and shock, and the style... the style bends like a reed to suit all of these aspects. I have no idea what his books were like to read in context and I'm reading books of his from the 70s or 80s without factoring that in the way I would if it was a western comic from that period. This stuff just reads itself, it doesn't need me to make adjustments or allowances. The man was a genius.
MW is supposedly the anti-Tezuka, the darkest of all his books, it's hard to imagine a darker book - child molestation, rape, mental torture, genocide... it's like an attempt to batter every last grain of humanity from your characters (and readers) and see if there's still a human being left behind. 
The plot is a loopy 70s action movie/thriller affair with government conspiracies, a corrupted priest, a long haired detective, a serial killer and a secret weapon. The bouncy 70s art styles and immaculate storytelling make this fun to read and horrific to consider.
The story was originally serialised between 76-78 and was Tezuka's reaction to new violent adult comics (Gekiga) appearing in Japan at that time. Tezuka was Japan's Walt Disney at this time. Can you imagine Walt Disney deciding his next story will be about a homosexual serial killer, a homosexual priest and government genocide with chemical weapons? That Tezuka is as happy to write a thousand pages about Hitler or Buddha says everything about him. He created Astro Boy, but y'know, so what? You need to keep growing as an artist. If you need a touchstone for what an artist working in comics can achieve, Tezuka' your man.


I read the first book in a number of different series.

The Drifting Classroom - Kazuo/Umezu

I didn't know this was from way back in '72 until I finished it. The series ended in '74, it's 11 volumes in all so I have a long way to go. The plot: a school disappears and reappears in a mutant wasteland, the kids go mental and the teachers go mental. This is supposed to be one of the great 70s horror comics, what may horrify some readers in 2013 is how the teachers deal with the hysterical kids. Mr Nice Teacher takes to thumping as many 6 year olds in the face as is needed to calm the mob, and Mr Not-so-Nice Teacher grabs a kids, smashes his glasses and uses the broken glass to stab him in the arm. But it was ok because the kid was his own son. Phew! I'm not sure if this stuff was intended as the horror, it seems mostly consistent with my own memories of childhood in the 70s. I guess the mutant landscape stuff follows in later volumes. I don't know if I'll finish this series but I loved its hysteria, it's like putting your head in a pit of screaming kids.

Uzumaki - Junji Ito

Now this is the stuff. This is a horror comic. I read in bed and this book actually gave me a nightmare.
It's all about spirals. Forget vampires or monsters or serial killers, I can assure you - spirals are the real horror. The plot: kids on an island notice their parents and others becoming obsessed and then consumed by spirals. Spirals in art and nature. They're everywhere! A boy's mum gets so terrified of them after they take her husband she tries to destroy them all - slicing off her fingertips because they're spirals and attempting to stab out her inner ear to get at the cochlea.

This book came out in 1998, eight years after I was terrified by a fibonacci cauliflower (Romanesque). That's a story for another day, I'm just glad I read this 20 years after the cauliflower incident. Will continue reading this series, with some trepidation.

Death Note - Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata

I imagined this would be a gripping Horror/fantasy thing, and in a sense it is, but as with Tezuka it relishes getting tripped up by the realities presented by the plot. Boy finds Death Note - anyone whose name he rights on Death Note dies, the Death God who owns the note haunts/hangs around with the boy. Great set-up. That the boy sets out to reshape the human race with the note gives it a grandeur, that he is constantly beset by the logistics of carrying out such a plan makes the whole thing credible and so much more fun. The art is really tight, veering between brilliant and stiff. I can imagine this book being popular with teens the world over. I may eventually get the rest of the series.

Children of the Sea - Daisuke Igarashi

A girl who thinks she saw a ghost in an aquarium finds herself captivated by two kids raised by a sea cow. These 'Children of Sea' seem to understand the 'mind' of the sea and struggle to live on the land. This book is a mystery, an immersive mystery. Not a mystery in a whodunnit sense, or immersive in a page-turner sense - it offer no easy answers and immerses you with its naturalistic storytelling and fully realised settings.  Everything unfolds at its own pace and much of Igarashi's effort goes towards creating a naturalism with a loose but persistent style. In fact the drawing is almost quirk-free and achieves moments of great atmosphere without stylishness to the line or hatching. I'd say I was intrigued rather than captivated so far.

Blue Spring

Worth it for the art. Something un-manga about it to my eyes. The usual ingredients are missing to the faces, but the storytelling is excellent and the short stories here have a British 1960s kitchen sink quality. All the tales centre around a bunch of bored teens waiting for the summer to come. And it can't come soon enough. Recommended.


Couldn't make head nor tail of this, I really wanted to read it after scanning the blurb, but I found it utterly impenetrable. There are some cutesy drawing and some bits of dialogue and I'm sure they connect together somehow, but...
Apparently this was a TV show, so maybe it makes sense if you knew the Anime first... I dunno... it was like looking at doodles on the back of a sketch book and trying to connect them together to make sense. If anyone can help me with this book please do.

And if anyone wants to offer further suggestions based on my thoughts here I'd be happy to hear them. I plan to scoop up another haul as soon as I can. Manga is just more readable than most Western comics and I feel I should go away and think about all the reasons why it is so readable and apply them to my work. 


Herc said...

I agree with you on Tezuka. Such a shear genius. He was worlds apart from most artists and always striving to further himself as an artist.


MattKrous said...

Naoki Urasawa, Pluto is probably the easiest entry to his stuff.

Also Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa is a masterpiece.

Travis McIntosh said...

All I can say about FLCL is that it's basically an attempt at capturing the transition from adolescent to adult. Though I'm not sure how well the manga captures that, the show is delightful

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