Monday, September 17, 2007

Manga - A New Genre for Me

Prior to my trip to Tokyo last April, I thought it might be educational to sample some Manga, which is a type of graphic novel, very popular in Japan. Ducking into Rocket!, one of the local comic/manga/graphic novel stores, I browsed the shelves for a while, and then asked the very helpful gal behind the counter for some recommendations. Telling her I wanted something on the "dark" side, she recommended Berserk by Kentaro Miura.

This series follows Guts, the protagonist, as he fights off demons and other evil. (And, yes, Guts is really the name of the character - when in Japan, I bought a Japanese version, and asked a Japanese friend of mine to translate his name. She said, "um...Guts" :) He's been cursed, so that he can't die, and so that evil is drawn to him, so he's always on the road, using his big (and I do mean BIG) sword to kill the bad guys.

It's an interesting story, and as I've read deeper in the series (I'm up to #4), the story is getting more complex. I'm definitely interested to see what develops. The artwork is imaginative and extremely detailed, though the writing is fairly amateurish - though that may be a result of the translation.

(It should be noted that Berserk contains graphic violence & explicit content, and has a 'Parental Advisory' sticker on it. Not a book for the kiddies, despite its juvenile story.)

Other manga I've since read:

Black Sun, Silver Moon by Tomo Maeda - The story of young Taki, forced to work for a priest to pay off his father's debt, and Shikimi the priest he works for. Turns out, Shikimi spends his nights killing the un-dead, and expects Taki to help. Drawn in very typical manga style (large eyes, pointed faces), the writing and story is fairly predictable. After reading the first one, I'm not sure I'll read more.

Star Trek: The Manga - Five stories by five authors and artists, done in manga style and set in the original Star Trek universe of the original TV series (with Kirk & Spock). Hey, it's Star Trek - I had to get it! :-) The stories were not bad - similar in tone to the Star Trek animated series. It was fun to see the different artists' approach to the artwork. A must for any Star Trek fan!

Lone Wolf and Cub - Vol. 1, The Assassin's Road - story by Kazuo Koike and artwork by Goseki Kojima - This is a "groundbreaking" series, set in the Edo period of Japan. It's groundbreaking both for its historical setting and its amazing, nearly cinematic artwork. The hero of the series is the Lone Wolf, an assassin for hire, who travels with his toddler son, the Cub. This first book in the series is a series of vignettes, as we follow the father and son through the countryside, as he is hired for various jobs. Of course, our hero has a conscience and a strict set of ethics, but most of the stories were pretty much the same. I may try another book in the series, if only for the draw of the period it's set in. However, I have to say that the smaller format, which results in teeny-tiny print, detracts from my enjoyment of the artwork.

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo - A truly groundbreaking manga, first published in 1982. It is set in a futuristic Tokyo, and involves a teen gang of motorcycle riders which gets involved in a secret government weapons program, when one of their gang is taken in, and discovers he has immense mental powers. This story is as complex and well-developed as any textual science fiction novel. And the artwork is compelling. It helps that this series is published in over-size format, which helps in the enjoyment of the book. I will definitely read the entire series. (On a side note, I recently viewed the movie version of Akira, which was also compelling. Though, as is usual in the case of books being converted into movies, there is quite a loss in story depth. If you want to see a fine example of anime, I highly recommend this one.)

Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune - Another of the 'greats' of manga, both for story and artwork. The story is set in the future, where humans are often computer-enhanced, and cyborgs are created for many uses. Again, this story holds up against any mainstream science fiction. Our heroine is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg, investigating a terrorist cybercriminal, who hacks people through their computer components and uses them for his purposes (the people are the 'shell' and he is the 'ghost' of the title).

Nice artwork, and the edition I have (Dark Horse Manga) has several pages in full color, which adds to the enjoyments. My only complaint is the way the hero is drawn - as is typical, she is, shall we say, well-endowed. (I also thought the female-only sex scene was totally unnecessary). I guess this is to be expected, coming from male authors. (Hmm, are there any female manga authors? I'll have to find out!) This series was also made into a movie, which I saw before reading the book. I really enjoyed the movie, and will have to see the rest of the film series, and read the rest of the book series. (This book also has a parental advisory, which is well-deserved.)

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