Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 manga reading roundup

My first forays into reading manga this year were a mixed bag. I haven't read anything yet that makes me say, "Wow, I love Japanese comics," the way Hayao Miyazaki's films made me love anime. The manga volumes I read this year were all short series, most of them by Clamp, an all-female writing/drawing team. My husband is addicted to several longer series I'm eager to try in 2008 that seem to have better fleshed-out characters and deeper themes. I also may have made the mistake of picking manga to read targeted more at children or younger teens.

Wish is the four-volume story of Shuichiro, a young doctor, and Kohaku, the sweet, naive angel who falls in love with him after he rescues her from a prank-playing demon. Kohaku gratefully offers to grant Shuichiro a single wish, but he insists he needs nothing she can give him. Unperturbed, she moves in with him, insisting she will wait for him to come up with a wish. The story explores the comic complications that occur when an angel takes up residence in the human world, and all sorts of demons and high angels stop by for tea. The story was sweet and uncomplicated, although a bit cutesy at times. My grade: B.

Speaking of cutesy, reading Man of Many Faces was like eating way too many Jelly Bellies at once. This sugary-sweet, two-volume manga chronicles the adventures of Akira, third-grader and master thief, and Utako, his kindergarten-aged girlfriend. Akira has two mothers (don't ask; the manga doesn't explain except to say they both lived with his father) and he constantly steals pretty objects the women insist they must have. Hearing adult romantic sentiments come out of the mouths of Akira and Utako was jarring and unbelievable, while the story was just too sappy for my tastes. My grade: C-

I'm having a hard time describing what I thought of Magic Knight Rayearth I and II. This series and its sequel, each three volumes long, tell the tale of three Japanese schoolgirls mysteriously pulled into the fantasy world of Cephiro, where they learn they are the legendary Magic Knights who must save the land.

The first series initially read like the plot for a video game, but it slowly deepened until it broadsided me with a completely unexpected, tragic ending. The darker themes continued in the sequel, when the Magic Knights, faced with a crumbling Cephiro, had to decide if the land was worth saving. The juxtaposition of cutesy humor with deep ethical dilemmas did not always work for me, although I respected what Clamp was trying to do in giving what initially seemed a cliched fantasy saga some thought-provoking twists. My grade: B-

I ventured away from Clamp to read the one-shot story, R.I.P. Requiem in Phonybrian, by Mitsukazu Mihara. In this manga, a suicidal undertaker and a bored angel team up to free the souls of the dead from the unfinished business trapping them on Earth. Unfortunately, the Victorian Gothic costumes of the characters were probably the most interesting thing about the book. Much of the artwork was gorgeous, but the plot was thin and the characters silly and annoying. The first few chapters seemed like a pale imitation of Neil Gaiman's graphic novels about Death. It got better in the last few chapters but couldn't redeem itself completely. My grade: D.

Mixed in with these manga volumes, I read a short graphic novel, Cicada by Jasue Menjivar. It tells the story of a man whose childlike, pathetic desire to be liked leads him into numerous extramarital affairs, and eventually to lonliness and isolation. Menjivar captured very subtle emotions in his art. The story wasn't too deep but worth a look, especially if you're a fan of alternative or "underground" comics. My grade: B-

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