Lone Wolf and Cub volume 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger


By Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-504-8

Best known in the West as Lone Wolf and Cub, the epic Samurai saga created by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima is without doubt a global classic of comics literature.

An example of the popular “Chanbara” or “sword-fighting” genre of print and screen, Kozure Okami was serialised in Weekly Manga Action from September 1970 until April 1976 and was an immense hit.

Those tales soon prompted a thematic companion series, Kubikiri Asa (Samurai Executioner) which ran from 1972 to 1976, but the major draw – at home and soon, increasingly abroad – was always the nomadic wanderings of doomed noble Ōgami Ittō and his solemn child.

Revered and influential, Kozure Okami was followed after years of supplication by fans and editors by sequel Shin Lone Wolf & Cub (illustrated by Hideki Mori) and even spawned – through Koike’s indirect participation – science fiction homage Lone Wolf 2100 by Mike Kennedy & Francisco Ruiz Velasco with.

The original saga has been successfully adapted to many other media, spawning six movies, four plays, two TV series, games and merchandise. The property is notoriously still in pre-production as a big Hollywood blockbuster.

The several thousand pages of enthralling, exotic, intoxicating narrative art produced by these legendary creators eventually filled 28 collected volumes, beguiling generations of readers in Japan and, inevitably, the world. More importantly, their philosophically nihilistic odyssey with its timeless themes and iconic visuals has influenced hordes of other creators.

The many manga, comics and movies these stories have inspired are impossible to count. Frank Miller, who illustrated the cover of this edition, referenced the series in Daredevil, his dystopian opus Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. Max Allan Collin’s Road to Perdition is a proudly unashamed tribute to this masterpiece of vengeance-fiction. Stan Sakai has superbly spoofed, pastiched and celebrated the wanderer’s path in his own epic Usagi Yojimbo, and even children’s cartoon shows such as Samurai Jack can be seen as direct descendants of this astounding achievement of graphic narrative.

We in the West first saw the translated tales as 45 Prestige Format editions from First Comics beginning in 1987. That innovative trailblazer foundered before getting even a third of the way through the vast canon, after which Dark Horse Comics assumed the rights, systematically reprinting and translating the entire epic into 28 tankobon-style editions (petite 153 x 109 mm monochrome trade paperbacks, of about 300 pages each) between September 2000 and December 2002.

Once the entire translated epic had run its course it was all placed online through the Dark Horse Digital project.

A certain formula informs the early episodes: the acceptance of a commission to kill an impossible target, a cunning plan and inevitable success, all underscored with bleak philosophical musings alternately informed by Buddhist teachings in conjunction with or in opposition to the unflinching personal honour code of Bushido.

Protagonist Ōgami Ittō is also – probably – the most dangerous swordsman in creation…

Following a cautionary ‘Note to Readers’ on stylistic interpretation this third moodily magnificent monochrome collection truly gets underway with another grimly compelling fable as The Flute of the Fallen Tiger’ finds Ōgami and Daigoro aboard a ship where they encounter three bounty hunting brothers on a mission of their own. Seemingly favoured by the gods of fortune the BenTenRai siblings are lethal, unbeatable ninja warriors who instinctively comprehend the mettle of their taciturn travelling companion. Suspecting his true identity and fearing his task is opposing their current assignment – escorting a crucial witness to the Shogun’s Court – the brothers constantly test the father and son, without ever violating the strict formality of the traveller’s codes of conduct.

They even become tenuous allies when a third faction attacks with oil and flame, setting the waters ablaze. Tragically for the brothers, their fortunate reputation is not equal to their so-accurate assessment of the Lone Wolf assassin, and when the final clash comes only Ōgami walks away…

‘Half Mat, One Mat, A Fistful of Rice’ then pits the wanderers against Headless Sakon, an aging warrior master who apparently whiles his days away testing his skills against punters all paying for a sporting chance to decapitate him. When one such joust almost injures Daigoro, the veteran tries to strike up a friendship with the boy’s father, but he has ulterior motives.

After intense philosophical debate fails to sway the assassin from his sworn course on the road to hell, the elderly Ronin is forced to resort to his martial prowess and one final performance…

‘The White Path Between the Rivers’ then delves back to the beginning and reveals the details of Ōgami Ittō’s downfall. The vengeance-driven killer-nomad was once the prestigious Kōgi Kaishakunin: the Shogun’s official executioner, capable of cleaving a man in half with one stroke.

An eminent individual of esteemed imperial standing, elevated social position and impeccable honour, Ōgami loses everything when, soon after the birth of his son, his wife is murdered and his family eternally dishonoured due to the machinations of the politically ambitious Yagyu Clan.

Framed for plotting against the Shogun, Ōgami is ordered to commit suicide. Instead he rebels, choosing to become a despicable Ronin (masterless samurai) and assassin, pledging to revenge himself on the Yagyus until they are all dead or Hell has claimed him.

Now, despite the machinations of enemies at court he roams Japan pushing his toddler son in a tricked-out weaponised pram; two doomed souls hell-bent for the dire, demon-haunted underworld of Meifumado.

Although little more than a baby, his son Daigoro also chooses the way of the sword, and together they tread the grim and evocative landscapes of feudal Japan, one step ahead of destruction with death behind and before them…

When a freshly purchased girl accidentally kills the procurer who is delivering her to a brothel, she stumbles into little Daigoro and falls under the protection of the Lone Wolf. A valuable property, the local Yakuza Madam tries every possible tactic to regain her but is unable to shift Ōgami from his sworn intent to liberate ‘The Virgin and the Whore’

The martial arts mayhem concludes at ‘Close Quarters’ when Wolf and Cub become embroiled in a localised political war between generations.

The authorities in a rich lumber-producing region are divided between cutting down their forests for a quick sale and preserving the mountain woodlands that stave off calamitous flooding. After one faction occupies the arboreal tracts and threatens to burn them, the jōdai (Castle Warden and official in charge) hires Ōgami to kill the rebel leader and safeguard the precious trees.

A feat of monumental audacity and determination follows, but when the greedy jōdai attempts to cheat the assassin, all hell is unleashed…

These stories are deeply metaphorical and work on a number of levels most of us Westerners just can’t grasp on first reading – even with the help provided by bonus features such as the copious Glossary, providing detailed clarification and context on the terms used in the stories. That only makes them more exotic and fascinating…

Also included in this edition are profiles of author Koike Kazuo and illustrator Kojima Goseki and the next instalment of ‘The Ronin Report’ – an occasional series of articles offering potted history essays on the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate – this time discussing the decline of the Samurai and transformation of Bushido principles.

A breathtaking tour de force, these are comics classics you simply must read.
© 1995, 2000 Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima. Cover art © 2000 Frank Miller. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Drops of God volume 1


By Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto translated by Kate Robinson (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-27-8

Every so often a graphic novel jumps the ghetto walls and makes a splash in the wider world and this intriguing manga monolith is the latest: eschewing the usual icebreakers of horror, sci fi or blood-soaked action to target the lofty and insular world of the high-end vintner trade and the obsessive fascination of oenophilia (I’m chucking in a bunch of technical terms all enticingly explained in the book, but you can cheat and use your search engine of choice).

Created by brother and sister thriller-writing team Shin & Yuko Kibayashi (Kindaichi’s Case Files, GetBackers) under their nom de crime Tadashi Agi and sensitively illustrated by Shu Okimoto, Kami no Shizuku debuted in 2004 in Kondansha’s Morning with book compilations beginning a year later.

The siblings are also two of the most influential wine connoisseurs in the world and their expertise and passion shine through every page of this monolithic manga tome which took the wine world by storm and won the Gourmand and Cookbook Award in 2009 – presumably a first for any work of fiction, let alone graphic novel. It was described by Decanter Magazine as “arguably the most influential wine publication in the past 20 years.”

Of course, all I care about is comics, but even on my terms this is a thoroughly entertaining, immaculately realised soap/thriller drama that would make fans of Jackie Collins or Dick Francis rethink their allegiances.

The tale stars follows prodigal son Shizuku Kanzaki; raised from birth to follow his father’s obsession only to rebel and seek his own path until tragedy and circumstance pull him back to his destiny, …

The first eighteen chapters of the delectable saga are contained in this first English translation, beginning with ‘The Scent of a Hundred Flowers’: introducing apprentice Sommelier Miyabi Shinohara who almost shames her wine-bar/restaurant employers in front of a prominent – but boorish – wine snob until a dashing young man saves the day with a bit of daredevil decanting…

It transpires that the lad is a small cog in a vast beer-making concern and has never tasted wine: a shocking admission since Shizuku is the son of global superstar of wine criticism Yutaka Kanzaki

It seems old man Kanzaki had great hopes and aspirations for his son, training the boy from birth in flavours, odour detection and discrimination like a vintner version of Doc Savage, but the boy rebelled and rejected his father’s passion.

The situation changes when Shizuku is informed of his sire’s death and a unique will…

‘A Prayer to the Fruitful Earth’ reveals the elder Kanzaki had a vast and valuable private collection of stellar vintages and has left them, his house and a fortune to his wayward son under a bizarre condition.

The heir must indulge in a duel with dark prince of wine-tasters – and inheritor of Kanzaki’s mantle as greatest critic in Japan – Issei Tomine in a dozen blind tastings of the greatest vintages in the collection – the “Twelve Apostles” – as well as the mysterious thirteenth bottle known only as “the Drops of God”. To the one who most closely agrees with the master’s own description goes everything…

At first Shizuku doesn’t care, but the arrogance of Tomine and a burning desire to understand the father who pushed him to such extraordinary lengths moves the orphan to an alliance with Miss Shinohara. Her crash-course in the history, lore and philosophy of the wine industry and craft in ‘The Profound and Subtle Queen’ as well as his first ever actual taste of the magical elixir precipitates a major transformation in the lad…

For reasons even he doesn’t understand, the neophyte decides to accept the challenge of the Drops of God in ‘Over the Bed Wafts an Aroma of Awakening’. Thus begins his education, inestimably assisted by his incredible sense of smell, expanded palate and physical skills he never even knew he possessed, all courtesy of his early training.

In episodes with such evocative titles as ‘The God of Burgundy’, ‘A Maiden Fleeing through Strawberry Fields’, ‘Tasting in the Park’ and ‘Cradling God’s Blessing in Both Hands’, what follows is a dazzling display of hard fact and the theosophical fervour of the grape-grower’s art, seamlessly blended with a canny melodrama of rivalry, redemption and (perhaps) burgeoning young love as Shizuku discovers the obsessive power of his father’s life.

With surprising intensity the cast expands as the story unfolds: the nigh-mystical nature of wine is seen to mend fences, restore lost lovers and even diagnose illness in ‘Draining the Glass of Reunion’, ‘A Maiden Smiling in the Strawberry Fields’, ‘The Sweet Dessert of Parting’ and ‘The Ones Who Watch Over’.

Even Shizuku’s career alters as he transfers from sales to the Beer company’s small and struggling wine division where he finds that even all he has learned is not enough after falling foul of snobbery and bigotry in ‘At All the Battles’ Start’, ‘A Lovely Cruel Flower’, ‘Tough Love for a Saucy Lolita’, ‘The Mystery Man of the Wine Division’ and ‘Merry-Go-Round’

Meanwhile Tomine has begun to stack the odds in his favour by introducing a seductive secret agent into the lives of Shizuku and Miss Shinohara during ‘A Fantastico Night’, wherein some nasty facts about the true character of the Prince of wine-critics is exposed…

As much religion and philosophy as science and art, the cachet and inherent excitement of the wine trade transfers readily and effectively in this tale to make for a superbly readable tale for older readers.

The Japanese excel at making superb comics which simultaneously entertain and educate (check out economics textbook Japan Inc. by Shotaru Ishinomori to see what I mean) and the powerful, evocative imagery used to capture the sensorial effect of wine on the tongue and myriad fragrances in the nostrils is staggeringly effective – a brilliant use of the disciplines as only comics can muster them.

This is an astoundingly compelling comics-read and might well be the perfect gift for all those people you thought you couldn’t buy a graphic novel for…

This black and white book is printed in the traditional ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format – even if you pick it up as a digital edition.
© 2011 Tadashi Agi/Shu Okimoto. All rights reserved.

Wandering Island volume 1


By Kenji Tsuruta, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-079-3                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-771-5

Kenji Tsuruta was born in 1961 and studied optical science, intending to pursue a career in photography, but instead made the jump to narrative storytelling as manga artist, designer, book illustrator and anime creator.

A lifelong fan of “hard science” science fiction authors like Robert A. Heinlein and the comic works of Tetsuya Chiba and Yukinobu (Saber Tiger) Hoshino, after years of producing self-published dōjinshi whilst working as an assistant to established manga stars, the 25-year-old Tsuruta began selling his own works in 1986 when his short fantasy serial Hiroku te suteki na uchū ja nai ka (‘What a Big Wonderful Universe It Is’) was published in Kodansha’s Weekly Morning magazine.

Soon after, he began Sprits of Wonder: a dazzling scientific romance of gently colliding worlds. It ran in both Weekly Morning and monthly magazine Afternoon between 1987 and 1996 before making the smooth transition to animated features and an award-winning TV series. Dark Horse Comics published the first translated episodes as a 5-issue monochrome miniseries in 1995-6.

After that the artist pretty much moved out of the manga business, instead concentrating on science fiction illustration and character design; a field of endeavour where he won many awards.

Then on July 13th 2010 Wandering Island debuted in Kodansha’s anthological Manga Box AMASIA before being serialised in Afternoon. The first collection was released in October 2011 and Dark Horse began their English language editions in July 2016.

The slow-moving, elegiac saga is Mr. Tsuruta’s first major narrative work since the turn of the century: a beguiling and enticing modern-day mystery set against a fascinating geological backdrop in a fascinating cultural backwater…

Like Great Britain, Japan is composed of a vast number of islands, many of them located in areas far beyond commercially viable air routes. To cater to those small communities, independent pilots act as postmen, delivery specialists and rapid freight-hauliers.

Freewheeling Mikura Amelia flies an old Fairey Swordfish on her rounds, enjoying a pretty idyllic life as she hops from cetacean research station to trading post to fishing village delivering whatever needs moving for whatever fee she can get.

She used to work with her grandfather Brian Amelia in the family Air Service, but now it’s just her and the cat Endeavour. Her parents moved back to civilisation after the old man died but Mikura loves the freedom of the skies and can’t let go of her grandfather’s great obsession…

Amongst his effects was an undelivered package with her name on it for delivery to Is. Electriciteit – which she translated as Electric Island. There are a few fables about the place, but most people think it’s a myth…

Mikura, however, armed with a keen mind, decades of detailed logs and a strange yearning, becomes as obsessed as her mentor with the mystery. Old Brian vanished trying to find the island, but his logs have entries written after he seemingly perished.

And then one day Mikura actually sees the perpetually shifting, cloud-cloaked atoll – complete with a small town – but cracks up trying to land there. She is rescued by a passing freighter but the frustration of being so close is agonising and unbearable…

She slowly heals and gets back to work and starts to doubt her own memories, but somehow cannot let go. Eventually she puzzles out its secret: Electric Island moves around the Pacific in a complex and convoluted three year cycle.

That only leads to more puzzles, especially after she learns of a friend of Brian’s who shared his fixation: her old English teacher who was actually a brilliant geophysicist…

Another quick trip and one last revelatory interview and at long last Mikura is flying off to a long-awaited rendezvous with the unknown…

To be Continued…

Accompanied by text feature ‘Notes on Wandering Island’, detailing the specifics of floating islands, the antecedents of the series and Tsuruta’s history, Wandering Island is a superbly welcoming introduction into what promises to be a sublime treat for every lover of untrammelled wonder…
© 2011 Kenji Tsuruta/Kodansha Ltd. All rights reserved.

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 2: The Gateless Barrier


By Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-503-1

Best known in the West as Lone Wolf and Cub, the epic Samurai saga created by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima is without doubt a global classic of comics literature.

An example of the popular “Chanbara” or “sword-fighting genre of books and cinema, Kozure Okami was serialised in Weekly Manga Action from September 1970 until April 1976 and was an immense hit. Those tales soon prompted a thematic companion series, Kubikiri Asa (Samurai Executioner) which ran from 1972 to 1976, but the major draw at home – and increasingly abroad – was always the nomadic wanderings of doomed noble Ōgami Ittō and his solemn child.

Revered and influential, Kozure Okami was followed after years of supplication by fans and editors by sequel Shin Lone Wolf & Cub (illustrated by Hideki Mori) and even spawned – through Koike’s indirect participation – science fiction homage Lone Wolf 2100 by Mike Kennedy & Francisco Ruiz Velasco with.

The original saga has been successfully adapted to many other media, spawning six movies, four plays, two TV series, games and merchandise. The property is notoriously still in pre-production as a big Hollywood blockbuster.

The several thousand pages of enthralling, exotic, intoxicating narrative art produced by these legendary creators eventually filled 28 tankobon volumes, beguiling generations of readers in Japan and, inevitably, the world. More importantly, their philosophically nihilistic odyssey with its timeless themes and iconic visuals has influenced hordes of other creators.

The many manga, comics and movies these stories have inspired are impossible to count. Frank Miller, who illustrated the cover of this edition, referenced the series in Daredevil, his dystopian opus Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. Max Allan Collin’s Road to Perdition is an unashamed tribute to this masterpiece of vengeance-fiction. Stan Sakai has superbly spoofed, pastiched and celebrated the wanderer’s path in his own epic Usagi Yojimbo and even children’s cartoon shows such as Samurai Jack can be seen as direct descendants of this astounding achievement of graphic narrative.

We in the West first saw the translated tales as 45 Prestige Format editions from First Comics beginning in 1987. That innovative trailblazer foundered before getting even a third of the way through the vast canon, after which Dark Horse Comics assumed the rights, systematically reprinting and translating the entire epic into 28 tankobon-style editions (petite 153 x 109 mm monochrome trade paperbacks, of about 300 pages each) between from September 2000-December 2002. When the entire translated epic had run its course it was all placed online through the Dark Horse Digital project.

A certain formula informs the early episodes: the acceptance of a commission to kill an impossible target, a cunning plan and inevitable success, all underscored with bleak philosophical musings alternately informed by Buddhist teachings in conjunction with or in opposition to the unflinching personal honour code of Bushido. The protagonist is also – probably – the most dangerous swordsman in creation…

The foredoomed killer-nomad was once Kōgi Kaishakunin: the Shogun’s official executioner, capable of cleaving a man in half with one stroke. An eminent individual of esteemed imperial standing, elevated social position and impeccable honour, Ōgami Ittō lost everything through the machinations of enemies at court and now roams feudal Japan pushing his toddler son in a tricked-out weaponised pram; two doomed souls hell-bent for the dire, demon-haunted underworld of Meifumado.

Ōgami’s wife was murdered and his clan eternally dishonoured due to the machinations of the politically ambitious Yagyu Clan, and the Emperor ordered Ōgami to commit suicide. Instead he rebelled, choosing to become a despicable Ronin (masterless samurai) and assassin, pledging to revenge himself on the Yagyus until they were all dead or Hell claimed him.

Although little more than a baby, his son Daigoro also chose the way of the sword, and together they now tread the grim and evocative landscapes of feudal Japan, one step ahead of destruction with death behind and before them.

This second magnificent monochrome volume – set in the depths of Japan’s legendary winters – again offers a grimly compelling combination of vengeful fable and addictive action-adventure which resumes here with ‘Red Cat’ as Ōgami leaves Daigoro with his client’s maid and engineers his own capture.

He wants to be incarcerated in the brutal, Fukuyama Han Prison where he can at last reach his target. Frequently the infallible assassin’s best ploy was to allow himself to be taken prisoner, endure unimaginable torture and then fight his way out having slaughtered his target: perhaps a self-induced penance for his failings…

Akaneko Shinsuke is an arsonist who once burned down the jail; effecting the escape of many criminals and causing the death and dishonour of the client’s father who was the warden at the time. Now “Red Cat” is back inside the rebuilt prison and on Death Row, but that is not punishment enough for the client.

He must not die impersonally, and the mastermind who truly created the shameful tragedy must be exposed and ended too…

Enduring appalling treatment and leaving a stack of corpses behind him, the Lone Wolf manoeuvres himself onto Death Row beside Shinsuke and learns the truth of that terrible night and the great fire, before rekindling the conflagration and bringing hell back to earth for final retribution…

Another aspect of Ōgami’s methodology re-emerges in ‘The Coming of the Cold’. The assassin always insists on a personal interview with his client and demands not only who is to die, but why. Perhaps the cautious killer only wants to know the extent of what he’s getting into, but we know he’s judging: seeing whether the target deserves death… or if the client does…

Upon accepting his latest job, Ōgami is proud to despatch the man who hired him before plunging into arctic conditions to complete his commission. The client’s retainers also happily sacrifice their lives to allow the Lone Wolf to infiltrate the fortified town of Oyamada and its impenetrable castle. As this scheme unfolds, little Daigoro sits in a cave in the midst of a blizzard fully aware that unless his father returns within five days, he will freeze or starve.

But that was before the avalanche…

Believing his son dead, Ōgami continues his mission, drawing ever closer to the traitor Lord who has chosen to rebel against the Shogun and forced his most loyal retainer to hire an assassin to cleanse the honour of the Han and remind his corrupted comrades of the purity of the beliefs they have forsaken…

His task accomplished, the assassin is replaced by the grieving father, but there is a miracle awaiting the weary warrior on his path to hell…

‘Tragic O-Sue’ begins as Daigoro gets into a fight with older children. When he wounds the son of the local Lord he is arrested and savagely beaten until the Lord realises the silent child is the son of the infamous and terrifying Lone Wolf.

Ōgami meanwhile is semi-conscious in a deserted temple, recovering from the fever and wounds earned during his last job. As he struggles back to health and sanity, little Daigoro is locked up with only the lowliest servant of the great house caring whether he lives or dies.

When the O-Sue’s charity is discovered, the Lord – convinced Ōgami has been sent to kill him – deals brutally with her and nearly dies for his callous brutality when enraged Daigoro escapes. Following the fugitive boy though the snow, the Lord intends to find the hidden assassin but doesn’t survive the success of his plan…

Delving deeply into Buddhist lore, ‘The Gateless Barrier’ sees Ōgami travel to desolate Wolf Mountain in search of spiritual clarity. However, although the animal predators find a way to live in harmony with him, his fellow humans are not so inclined. Cleansed and prepared, Ōgami proceeds with his latest job…

Strife between church and state over taxes in a famine-afflicted Han leads civil officials to hire the assassin to kill a “living Buddha” stirring up trouble. Before he can succeed in this sacrilegious assignment, however, the Wolf must be schooled in the proper procedures… by his victim…

This potently beautiful compendium of philosophic bloodletting concludes with an absorbing and fabulously off-kilter mystery as a highborn Samurai woman turned prostitute (a licensed and regulated profession in the Tokugawa Shogunate) proudly ends her life.

Elsewhere at the same time, the high-living head of the Han secretariat and his wife are murdered in almost impossible circumstances. Beside their bodies is a local blossom known as the ‘Winter Flower’ and the local criminal investigator wonders if there can be any connection. When an informant reveals that one of the prostitute’s last clients was a wandering ronin pushing a baby carriage, wheels begin to turn in the mind of the inspector…

Solid police work leads to a ramshackle hut in temple grounds, but the battalion of deputies and soldiers are loath to storm the shack since the local priest warned them that the warrior inside is dying of a highly contagious and revolting disease…

As metsuke (Police Inspector/Regional Spy Chief) Takariki Jinbei shouts through the closed door, the dying assassin tells him the shameful, shocking reasons the Han Chief and his bride had to die before igniting the hut and ending his tortured existence…

However, the metsuke is a remarkably astute, honourable and dedicated man. Seeing Daigoro, he wonders if he can trust his eyes and returns later: a move that results in a most enlightening confrontation with the devious Ōgami…

These stories are deeply metaphorical and work on a number of levels most of us Westerners just can’t grasp on first reading – even with the contextual help provided by bonus features such as the copious Glossary, providing detailed clarification and context on the terms used in the stories.

That only makes them more exotic and fascinating. Also, a little unsettling is the even-handed treatment of women in the tales. Within the confines of the incredibly stratified culture being depicted, females – from servants to courtesans, prostitutes to highborn ladies – are all fully-rounded characters, with their own motivations and drives. Ōgami’s female allies are valiant and dependable, and his foes, whether ultimate targets or mere enemy combatants in his path, are treated with professional respect by the Lone Wolf. He kills them just as if they were men…

A breathtaking tour de force, these are comics classics you simply must read.
© 1995, 2000 Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima. Cover art © 2000 Frank Miller. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Astro Boy volume 4


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-679-3

From the late 1940s onward until his death in 1989, Osamu Tezuka generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work which transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. Devoted to Walt Disney’s creations, he performed similar sterling service with Japan’s fledgling animation industry.

The earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start Tezuka’s expansive fairytale stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden pleasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928, and as a child suffered from a severe illness. The doctor who cured him inspired the lad to study medicine, and although Osamu began drawing professionally whilst at university in 1946, he persevered with college and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades, Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of young and old equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the distinctly disturbing such as The Book of Human Insects.

Tezuka died on February 9th 1989, having produced more than 150,000 pages of timeless comics, created the Japanese anime industry and popularised uniquely Japanese graphic narrative which became a fixture of world culture.

This fourth monochrome digest volume (168 x 109 x 33 mm) continues to present – in non-linear order – early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The series began in 1952 in Shōnen Kobunsha and ran until March 12th 1968 – although Tezuka often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that time Astro spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon boom and starred in comicbook specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka frequently drew himself into his tales as a commentator, and in his revisions and introductions often mentioned how he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, having to periodically pause a plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode. That’s his prerogative: most of us avid aficionados have no complaints…

Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans are. They constantly revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a purist you are just plain out of luck. Such tweaking and modifying is the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so stories aren’t treated as gospel and order is not immutable or inviolate.

It’s just comics, guys…

And in case you came in late, here’s a little background to set you up…

In a world where robots are ubiquitous and have won (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a traffic accident. Grief-stricken, the tormented genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructs in history, and for a while Tenma was content.

However, as his mind re-stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and, with cruel clarity, summarily rejected the replacement. Ultimately, the savant removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

Some time later, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot he closely studied the unique creation and realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy. As well as friends and admirers the familiar environment provided another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio)…

The astonishing exploits resume after ‘A Note to Readers’ – explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

‘Robot Land’ originally ran May to September, 1962 in Shōnen Magazine and sees Dr. Haido fulfil his life’s dream by turning the island of Aragashima into an actualisation of the beloved fairytales and legends he read as a child.

The immense theme park is manned by purpose-built robots and receives an early visit from Ochanomizu and Astro, who are amazed at everything they see. They’re less impressed when the truly terrifying simulacra of Satan and The Dragon go online, but Haido scorns their advice to deactivate the ultimate villains…

Mere months later, an exhausted Swan Princess crashes into Astro’s room. She begins to relate the horrors she has escaped from but is cut short by Satan smashing into the house and demanding her return. After a mighty but inconclusive struggle, the monster plays his trump card and claims the fugitive is Haido’s property and must be surrendered. The doctor, it seems, is as debased as his worst creations…

Undeterred, Astro Boy resolves to help and goes undercover, discovering the sweet land of childish fantasy has been turned into a ghastly gulag run like a dictatorship with helpless robots enslaved by Haido and Satan, who pay for their empire of evil by building advanced weaponry for criminals.

Once he knows the score, all Astro Boy can do is battle on until the armed camp of evil is destroyed, or he is…

‘Ivan the Fool’ (February-March 1959 in Shōnen Magazine) details how Earth’s first luxury-liner spaceship The Titan is hit by a meteor on its maiden voyage.

As the panicked passengers head for the life-pods, Astro Boy ends up in the same capsule as a disparate and relatively unsavoury cross-section of humanity including a petty bully, a spoiled family, a minor celebrity and a jewel thief…

The crisis is far from over. Lacking sufficient fuel, the pod can’t reach Earth and with tension mounting Astro has to crash the tiny vessel on the Moon. Mystery replaces terror as the survivors discover air, a (relatively) benign environment and evidence of prior civilisation. The desperate situation quickly degenerates into an outrageous holiday experience, but with Astro trying assorted ways to alert Earth to their plight, the mood radically shifts again after a lurking monster is spotted…

When the Mighty Atom finds an old ship he uncovers an incredible story of the first days of Russian space exploration and sorts out a rescue mission, but somebody has noticed a vast field of diamonds and is not ready to leave quite yet. It’s a recipe for death and disaster…

Cultural tradition was acknowledged and updated in ‘A Day to Remember’ (Shōnen Magazine special expanded summer edition 1960) as the O-Bon Lantern (Day of the Dead) Festival was re-imagined to encompass robot copies of departed loved ones annually returning for a 3-day visit. Sadly, this particular year a recent bereavement leaves no time to construct a facsimile and Astro is asked to play the role of the robot revenant for a family whose little boy has died…

His discomfort at playing substitute ends when Astro discovers Jiro was a genius who built a time machine in his bedroom; something his parents only learn after a gangster bursts in demanding a return on the illicit cash he advanced the kid to build it…

After dispensing with the thug Astro Boy hops into the chronal carriage and follows Jiro’s path, ending up in the turbulent 20th century on a rescue mission that promises plenty of peril before the inevitable happy ending…

The exotically eccentric escapades then conclude with ‘Ghost Manufacturing Machine’ from the 1957 Supplement Edition of Shōnen Magazine, which begins with scientists testing their latest horrific discoveries made in the service of the most evil man on Earth.

Premier Hitlini is a madman and ambitious dictator without parallel. His chief boffin Professor Pablos is not coming up with the goods he needs to further his schemes and is about to be replaced by Ochanomizu… even though the benevolent technologist doesn’t know it yet…

A frantic warning arrives too late and Ochanomizu is abducted to totalitarian Golgania, but when Astro Boy attempts to rescue his mentor he is prevented by international law which proscribes robots entering another country without human invitation.

Astro fumes in frustration as the Professor is compelled to work on Hitlini’s dream: a device to make duplicates of the dictator so his tyranny will be eternal. However his family eventually convince him to go, promising to handle the legal repercussions…

The toy boy wonder invades the embattled nation and experiences all manner of subtle horror and brutal threats. Autonomous robots and androids are forbidden. The government has lobotomised most mechanicals, turning them into slaves of Hitlini’s war machine, ever-ready to extend his power.

Soon, however, Astro has joined the Robot Resistance and befriended their leader Quantum. The valiant freedom fighter has a secret: he was built by Pablos and has contacts in the very heart of the dictator’s sanctum…

Meanwhile, deep inside the palace the laboratories are buzzing. Reluctant Ochanomizu is making progress, despite interference from Pablos, but neither suspect what the tyrant has planned for them as soon as they succeed.

…And when Quantum is captured, all long-range plans evaporate and Astro decides his only option is a direct assault. However, neither the Mighty Atom nor Ochanomizu realise the situation has also forced the hand of the secret plotter in the dictator’s inner circle and events have rapidly spiralled into murderous anarchy and chaos…

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching sentiment and frenetic action are the hallmarks of these captivating comics constructions: perfect examples of Tezuka’s uncanny storytelling gifts which can still deliver a potent punch and instil wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Astro Boy is a registered trademark of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd., Tokyo Japan. Unedited translation © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Astro Boy volume 3


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-678-6

Osamu Tezuka rescued and revolutionised the Japanese comics industry. From the late 1940s onward until his death in 1989, he generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work that transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. A passionate fan of Walt Disney’s cartoon films, he performed similar sterling service with the country’s fledgling animation industry.

His earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start his ambitious, expansive fairytale-flavoured stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his many manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928. As a child he suffered from a severe illness which made his arms swell. The doctor who cured him also inspired the boy to study medicine, and although Osamu began his professional drawing career while at university in 1946, he wisely persevered with his studies and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such unforgettable comics masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the disturbing – such as Adolf or The Book of Human Insects.

He died on February 9th 1989, having produced more than 150,000 pages of timeless comics, recreated the Japanese anime industry and popularised a peculiarly Japanese iteration of graphic narrative which became a fixture of world culture.

This superb digest volume (168 x 109 x 33 mm) continues to present – in non-linear order – early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its successful, if bowdlerised, dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The landmark, groundbreaking series began in the April 3rd 1952 issue of Shōnen Kobunsha and ran until March 12th 1968 – although Tezuka often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that time Astro spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon sensation, comicbook specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka often drew himself into his tales as a commentator and in his revisions and introductions often mentioned how he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, having to periodically pause a plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode. That’s his prerogative: most of us avid aficionados have no complaints…

Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as the fans. They constantly tinkered and revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a certified purist you are just plain out of luck. Such tweaking and modifying is the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so the stories aren’t treated as gospel and their order is not immutable or inviolate.

It’s just comics, guys…

And in case you came in late, here’s a little background to set you up…

In a world where robots are ubiquitous and have (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a road accident. Grief-stricken, the tormented genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructs in history, and for a while Tenma was content.

However, as his mind re-stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and, with cruel clarity, summarily rejected the replacement. Ultimately, the savant removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

Some time later, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot he closely studied the unique creation and realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy. As well as friends and admirers the familiar environment provided another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio) …

The astounding action and spectacle resumes in this third mighty monochrome digest volume following ‘A Note to Readers’ – which explains why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’ was first seen from June 1964 through January 1965 in Shōnen Magazine, and introduces formidable fighting fabrication Pluto. This monstrous mechanoid marvel was commissioned by Sultan; a small disgruntled Eastern potentate who dreams of being King of the World, and convinces himself that if his colossal construction (built by enigmatic masked genius Dr. Abullah) defeats and destroys the seven most powerful robots in existence, Pluto could declare himself ultimate overlord of the planet and rule as Sultan’s proxy…

Nothing is ever that simple of course. Despite initially eradicating mighty – and benevolent – Mont Blanc of Switzerland, Pluto’s ferocious attack on Astro Boy ends in a draw. Cleverly outmanoeuvred, the beast withdraws to reconsider.

As the cataclysmic conflicts continue and a pantheon of super-robots inexorably grows smaller, Astro futilely seeks ways to help his fellow targets but meets with repeated failure. However, what nobody expects was pulverising Pluto challenging his core programming and developing a conscience…

Packed with devious plot twists and sudden surprises, this extended epic also includes a starring role for Astro’s feisty little sister Uran before our artificial hero achieves his dream of upgrading his power to one million horsepower (thanks to a reconciliation with Dr. Tenma) and takes on the conflicted Pluto one last time…

Action-packed and brutally astute – Tezuka gives each endangered robot beguiling character and a winning personality before it is led to the slaughter – this is a stunning example of the author’s narrative mastery and still manages to pull off a stunning surprise ending.

Concluding this Little Book of Wonders is ‘Mad Machine’ (Shōnen Kobunsha August to September 1958) which introduces robot Parliamentarian Colt and his crusade to establish an official “Machine Day” for and celebrating Earth’s non-organic citizens.

His real troubles only begin after his triumph, as the mean-spirited and corrupt movers and shakers of business enterprise Colossal attempt to turn back progress and thwart the will of the people – organic and otherwise.

The plan involves hiring certified mad scientist Dr. Nutso to build a device capable of generating waves to disrupt the brains of all thinking machines…

With mechanisms from cars to military machines going bonkers, it’s a good thing the greedy double-dealing quack warned the public first. His treacherous tactic – designed to extort two fees for his machine – allows Professor Ochanomizu time to dismantle Astro Boy until the first fusillade of Nutso Waves passes.

Now, however, the Prof has only minutes to reassemble the mechanical marvel and have Astro destroy the hidden generator inside the heavily booby-trapped Colossal skyscraper before the next program-scrambling barrage begins…

Astro Boy is one of the most beguiling kids’ comics ever crafted: a work all fans and parents should know, but be warned: although tastefully executed, these tales don’t sugar-coat drama or combat and not all endings can be judged as happy by today’s anodyne, risk-averse definitions.

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, bold, broad comedy and frenetic action are the watchwords for this riotous assemblage, bringing to a close another perfect exhibition of Tezuka’s uncanny storytelling gifts which can still deliver a potent punch and instil wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Astro Boy is a registered trademark of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd., Tokyo Japan. Unedited translation © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Osamu Tezuka’s Original Astro Boy volumes 1 & 2


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-153-9

There aren’t many Names in comics.

Lots of creators; multi-disciplined or single-focussed, who have contributed to the body of the art form, but precious few Global Presences whose contributions have affected generations of readers and aspirants all over the World, like a Mozart, Michelangelo or Shakespeare.

We only have Hergé, Jack Kirby, Moebius, Will Eisner and Osamu Tezuka.

Tezuka rescued and revolutionised the Japanese comics industry. Beginning in the late 1940s, he generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work that transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. A passionate fan of Walt Disney’s cartoon films, he performed similar sterling service with the country’s fledgling animation industry.

His earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start his ambitious, expansive fairytale-flavoured stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers and the legion of fans who would grow up with his many manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928. As a child he suffered from a severe illness which made his arms swell. The doctor who cured him also inspired the boy to study medicine, and although Osamu began his professional drawing career while at university in 1946, he wisely persevered with his studies and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such unforgettable comics masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Adolf, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the disturbing – and even terrifying such as Ningen Konchuuki which we’ve seen in the West as The Book of Human Insects.

He died on February 9th 1989: having written and drawn more than 150,000 pages of comics, recreated the Japanese anime industry and popularised a peculiarly Japanese iteration of graphic narrative and made it a part of world culture.

This superb digest (168 x 109 x 33 mm) paperback gathers two earlier volumes in one massive monochrome compilation; presenting in non-linear order some early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its successful, if bowdlerised, dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The iconic series began in the April 3rd 1952 issue of Shōnen Kobunsha and ran intermittently until March 12th 1968 – although he often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that time Astro spawned the aforementioned groundbreaking TV cartoon, comics specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka often drew himself into his tales as a commentator and here in his revisions and introductions mentions how often he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, perpetually pausing the plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode.

As further explained in the context-expanding and defining Introduction by scholar and series translator Frederik L. Schodt, Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans: constantly tinkering and revising both stories and artwork in later collections. It’s the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so the stories aren’t treated as gospel and their order immutable or inviolate…

There’s a final prevarication in ‘A Note to Readers’ explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories before the cartoon wonders commence with ‘The Birth of Astro Boy’. This was first seen in June 20th 1975 as part of a new story for volume 1 of Asahi Sonorama’s Tetsuwan Atomu reprint series.

In the early days origins were never as important as getting on with having adventures, but here the secret is exposed as the development of a world where robots are ubiquitous and have (sometimes limited) human rights is described in detail, as are the laws of robotics which govern them.

When brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a road accident, the grief-stricken genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructions in history, and for a while Tenma was content. However, as his mind stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and with cruel clarity rejected the replacement. He ultimately removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

Some time later, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised the little performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or any construction he had ever encountered…

He convinced the circus owners to part with the little bot and, after studying the unique boy, realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Introductions over, the vintage tales properly begin with a rather disturbing adventure as ‘The Hot Dog Corps’ (Shōnen Kobunsha March to October 1961) pits the solenoid superhero against a maniac stealing pets. After much investigation our champions discover with horror that mystery villains were implanting canine nervous systems in humanoid warrior bodies to circumvent the Laws preventing robots from fighting humans…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy, and the metal and plastic marvel became embroiled in the bizarre interplanetary plot when his Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio) had his beloved dog stolen by Cossacks in a flying car…

After many false leads and deadly battles all over the world, the trail finally leads the valiant robot to a hidden polar base and an ancient city on the Moon, where a deranged Russian émigré plans a deadly revenge on the world that abandoned her…

Thankfully with Earth under overwhelming assault, mighty Astro Boy finds that a dog’s love for his master transcends shape and he has a secret ally deep within the enemy’s ranks…

Although a series built on spectacular action sequences and bombastic battles, Astro Boy had a skilful way of tugging heartstrings and hitting hard with the slapstick.

‘Plant People’ was a short tale from 1961’s Special Expanded New Years Day Edition of Shōnen which opens with Astro and his school chums playing in the snow. At the height of their sport they accidentally uncover a strange alien flower. Engaging his friends’ rapt attention, the Plastic Pinocchio then describes how he foiled an alien invasion in this location and how a valiant extraterrestrial ally perished on that very spot, only to be transformed into…

Following a leisurely and scathing discussion of violence in his comics and the squeamishness of America’s TX executives over content in the TV episodes, cartoon Tezuka yields focus to Astro Boy for ‘His Highness Deadcross’ (September through December 1960 in Shōnen magazine).

Here the super-synthezoid answers a surreal plea from an embattled leader desperate to save his nation. President Rag rules in the first nation to elect a robot to high office, but although voted in by both an organic and mechanical electorate, the robot ruler is being undermined and targeted for destruction by a sinister cabal he is unable to act against because of his core programming to never harm humans.

Astro is similarly restricted, but he also has a super brain and might be able to find a solution to this dreadful crisis…

Panicked yet emboldened, Deadcross craftily imprisons Mustachio for a little leverage whilst launching an all-out assault with deadly mindless mechanical monsters. Astro valiantly overcomes the invaders, but the mastermind then plays his trump card and replaces President Rag with a subservient substitute…

To make matters worse, Astro – depleted of energy after saving Mustachio – is reduced to fragments by Deadcross’ marauders, and with the nation about to fall to the usurpers, the liberated teacher and recently-arrived Professor Ochanomizu strive mightily to rebuild their robotic redeemer in time to expose the plot and save the day…

‘The Third Magician’ originally appeared in Shōnen between October 1961 and January 1962 and sees Kino, the world’s greatest stage illusionist, captured by another proponent of the art of prestidigitation. That villain calls himself Noh Uno and wants the secret of passing through walls, even if he has to dismantle the presumptuous, uppity robot conjuror to get it…

Like most kids, Astro is a huge fan of Kino and when his super-hearing picks up the magician’s distress he charges to the rescue. Tragically, by the time he battles through Noh Uno’s house of horrors he is too late…

A few days later Japan is shocked by an announcement that the amazing Kino is going to steal one hundred priceless works of art in one go. The police are unwilling to listen to Astro or Mustachio’s protestations that Noh Uno is the real culprit and their diligent preparations only make the heist easier for the villain…

A confrontation between Inspector Tawashi and Kino only convinces the authorities they are correct. It also leads the powers that be to start the legislative process to pre-emptively lobotomise all high functioning robots…

With so much at stake Astro Boy ignores official orders. Undertaking more intensive investigation and amidst increasing political unrest, he tracks down Kino, only to discover that the seemingly-corrupt conjuror has a double possessing all his gifts and tricks.

On the run from the cops, Astro and Kino persevere and lead their pursuers a merry chase which leads to the subterranean lair of Noh Ino and the Third Magician. Now all they have to do is defeat them, clear their names and stop the anti-robot bill…

This initial exploration of a classic cartoon future concludes with a delightful homage to another trans-Pacific antique anime export. ‘White Planet’ came from the New Years 1963 edition of Shōnen and featured a tribute to the early manga works of Tatsuo Yoshida whose Mach GoGoGo and its seminal progenitor Pilot Ace would become another American Anime hit in the 1960s: Speed Racer

In this smart pastiche, Astro aids a boy racer whose intelligent super-car is sabotaged just prior to a round-the-world grand prix. Astro and Ochanomizu have a robotic solution to his dilemma, but it will take a tragic sacrifice to make it work…

Wrapping things up is a potted biography of ‘Osama Tezuka’: making this a perfect introduction to the mastery of a man who reinvented popular culture in Japan and who can still deliver a powerful punch and wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.

Astro Boy is one of the most beguiling kids’ comics ever crafted: a work that all fans and parents should know, but be warned, although tastefully executed, these tales don’t sugar-coat drama or action and not all endings can be truly judged as happy.

The material in this tome plus volume 3 were combined and re-released in 2015 as the first wrist-wrenching, eye-straining Astro Boy Omnibus, but you can avoid injury and ongoing controversy about whether that tome is too small and heavy to read (I admit I found it so) by picking up this splendid, physically accessible and still readily available edition from your preferred internet vendor or online comics service… and you really, really should…
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002, 2008 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Unedited translation and Introduction © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream


By William Shakespeare, illustrated by Kate Brown and adapted by Richard Appignanesi (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-0-9552856-4-6

With the Bard of Avon seemingly everywhere at the moment, I’m taking the chance to leap on yet another bandwagon and using this jolly little graphic treat to opportunistically make myself seem a bit clever…

As far as we can tell, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written and first performed between 1590 and 1597. It is a fantastical comedy of wonder and folly dealing with the unlikely concatenation of events surrounding the marriage of Athenian Duke Theseus to stately Hippolyta. The impending nuptials affect four young lovers who don’t know their own heads – let alone hearts – and a half-dozen of hoi-polloi workers wanting to perform a celebratory play for their lord.

Sadly in those days, fairies and supernatural sorts gleefully messed with mortals when not selfishly scoring points off each other, and the spiteful machinations of occult overlord Oberon when crossed by his wife Titania has startling repercussions for the humans of every class and manner…

The immortal story has made it into comics form numerous times and, if you’re one of the precious few people unfamiliar with the tale (firstly, shame on you and secondly, go watch it right now; there are many excellent filmed versions in every possible language) this imaginatively welcoming rendition is extremely easy to take up…

SelfMadeHero is a British publisher specialising in literary graphic novels. Their top lines include a number of Shakespeare adaptations in child-friendly manga form and Eye Classics, concentrating on modern masterpieces by the likes of Poe and Kafka. Also in their expanding repertoire are Sherlock Holmes tales, Crime Classics and sequential narrative biographies…

There’s no point précising the plot [see the damn’ play!], but adaptor Richard Appignanesi (Italia Perverso, Yukio Mishima’s Report to the Emperor) with the assistance of consultant Nick de Somogyi and splendorous illustrator Kate Brown (Young Avengers, Fish + Chocolate, Tamsin and the Deep) have conspired to create a truly engaging scenario.

Visually casting the unfolding events in a nebulous near-future where the deathless prose (iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets actually…), forest frolics and pastoral scenes are accompanied by interior settings and costumes at once authentically vintage and comforting futuristic – togas, tee-shirts and sneakers: like an old episode of Dr. Who or Star Trek – the overall effect is at once accommodating, exotic and intriguing.

Augmented by textual features ‘Plot Summary of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘A Brief Life of William Shakespeare’, this appetising colour-&-monochrome treat is a terrific read and timeless visit to the realm of romantic wonder. Better yet, it’s still readily available through many online vendors…
© 2008 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

Sand Chronicles volume 1 – the Shojo Beat Manga Edition


By Hinako Ashihara, adapted and translated by John Werry & Kinami Watabe (Viz Media)
ISBN: 978-1-4215-1477-2

It’s never too late to take another look at first love and this subtly potent and marvellously engaging traditional romance proves once and for that all humans are basically the same when the lightning bolts hit…

Crafted by Hinako Ashihara, nostalgic, introspective love story Sunadokei (“Hourglass”) was serialised in Japan’s Betsucomi from 2003-2005; a beguiling and forthright exploration of how kids actually grow up…

It appeared in translation in 2007’s Shojo Beat magazine #26-29 before being gathered up in ten collected digest-sized manga volumes. The tale also spawned a TV series and a movie.

The story starts at ‘Age 12, Winter: Making a Wish’ as self-conscious big-city kid Ann Uekusa angrily packs a few of her most precious belongings before leaving for a scary – and probably deadly dull – existence with her mother for the country. The child is still ashamed and reeling from her parents’ divorce and blames her mother. Miwako Uekusa seems to have been dealt a mortal blow by her dream life’s ending…

One odd knickknack which somehow ends up in Ann’s bag is a little hourglass her mum got at the Sand Museum years ago when she was her daughter’s age. The memories it shakes up are powerful and painful and indicate that – in terms of love and marriage – this family seems destined to repeat its mistakes…

Her grandmother in rural, bucolic snow-stifled Shimane is a harsh-tongued woman keen to share her feelings of deep disappointment. Ann feels even more alone after meeting all the weird-talking yokel kids but eventually starts to adapt to the new situation. For one brief second the icy wastes warm for her as she almost befriends a cute bunny, but the moment ends when a boy – just as cute but in a different way – galumphs into view through the snow. He helps her catch the rabbit but then tells her it will be tonight’s dinner…

Daigo Kitamura will remember that meeting for years. Even after he became part of the school judo team years later, nobody ever left him as bruised and battered as the crazy town girl…

Seeking an escape from Grandmother Misayo’s harsh carping, Ann delivers a gift from the old lady to the wealthy Tsukishima household and subsequently sees how a proper family acts. The annoying lummox Daigo goes with her and somehow takes most of her attention…

Shika Tsukishima is Ann’s age and rather nice and her parents are wonderfully warm and welcoming. The nervous townie barely notices Shika’s quiet, studious older brother Fuji… but he notices her…

They join the family for a sumptuous meal but the repast is ruined when hasty word comes that Miwako has collapsed. Her mother’s problems are both physical and psychological. The matron has strived incessantly to provide for her child, to the permanent detriment of her health, but the shame of abandonment and divorce has broken her spirit…

To help, Ann takes a menial job with the Tsukishimas and is soon beavering away, blithely unaware of the shy attention Fuji is paying her…

Increasingly depressed, ailing Miwako takes Ann to the shrine she attended years previously and tries to get her reluctant daughter to make a votive wish for the future. It only reminds the troubled divorcee how badly her own heartfelt prayer failed to come true…

The episode tragically, horrifically ends the only way it can and in the awful aftermath Ann is stuck living alone with her mean but deeply chastened grandmother…

Following light-hearted and informative featurette ‘About the World’s Biggest One-Year Hourglass’, the drama resumes two years later.

‘Age 14, Summer: Thunder, Get Over It’ Ann and Daigo are much closer: genuine friends who enjoy being together. The little town girl has blossomed and integrated, attending the junior high school with her hulking first friend, who has turned into a human monolith and star of the judo team.

One unexpected consequence of their friendship is that female judoka Ayuma Narasaki has inexplicably become a pervasive pest: taking every opportunity to have a go at Ann, from snarky comments all the way to physical assaults. Ann can’t understand why…

The semester is ending and the entire school is buzzing with talk of the forthcoming summer camp. Feeling pressurised from all sides, Ann can’t decide whether to go or not. Grandmother is no help. She keeps going on about pointless cost and worrying about her granddaughter’s periods. The girl had just started before Miwako died, but there’s been nothing since. It’s like she’s going backwards as a woman…

In the end it’s easier to attend the gathering than stay behind and, apart from Ayuma’s constant veiled attacks, Ann actually has fun. She even takes Shika into her confidence over her problems – social, physical and especially emotional – but as the kids all boisterously let their hair down she again begins to feel the crushing pressure of her mother’s mistakes.

Dejected, Ann wanders off to be alone, straying too near a dangerous precipice which seems to call to her – just as had happened to her mother. She’s shaken out of her bleak reverie by Fuji Tsukishima who guides her back to the others.

A major storm is forecast and the supervising adults hurriedly gather the kids under shelter and bed them down for the night. Fuji however is restless. He pensively recalls the stormy night as a little boy when he caught his mother in bed with a man not his father… and what followed…

Wandering the vast cabins he meets Ann again. She too is overwrought, now obsessively thinking about Daigo. To calm her Fuji takes the agitated girl to a place of startling natural wonder and she briefly forgets her beloved lummox and everything else….

And then the worst thunderstorm in living memory suddenly erupts around her…

One of the activities planned for the campers was a huge scavenger hunt and now jealous Ayuma takes advantage of it: stealing Ann’s precious hourglass and sending her out in the storm, chasing clues to retrieve it…

By the time furious Fuji and Daigo find her, Ann is clinging to her life by a thread, but she only notices her wonderful lummox…

To Be Continued…

Fun, tense and suspenseful it also includes witty asides by the author and a full ‘Glossary’ providing cultural background and perspective.

Sharp, beguiling and strikingly illustrated, this charming tale about humanity’s most common shared experiences manages to be mature yet charming, fresh yet potently foreboding.

This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.
© 2003 Hinako Ashihara/Shogakukan Inc. All rights reserved.

Twin Spica volume 11


By Kou Yaginuma (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-33-9

Kou Yaginuma first captured the hearts and minds of star-struck generation with poignant short story 2015 Nen no Uchiage Hanabi (2015: Fireworks, published in Gekkan Comics Flapper, June 2000), before expanding the subject and themes into a major manga epic combining hard science and humanist fiction with lyrical mysticism and traditional tales of school-days and growing up.

Diminutive teenager Asumi Kamogawa always dreamed of going into space. From her earliest moments the solitary child gazed up at the heavens with imaginary friend Mr. Lion, especially gripped by the twinkling glow of Virgo and alluring binary star Spica.

An isolated, serious girl, she lived with her father, a common labourer who had once worked for the consortium which built the rockets for Japan’s Space Program.

When Asumi was one year old (just a few years from right now) the first Japanese manned launch ended in catastrophe after rocket-ship Shishigō (“The Lion”) exploded during its maiden flight: crashing to earth on the coastal city of Yuigahama. Hundreds were killed and many more injured, including Asumi’s mother.

Maimed and comatose, the matron took years to die. The shock crushed her grieving husband and utterly traumatised their infant daughter.

In response to the disaster, Japan set up an astronautics and space-sciences training facility where, after years of determined struggle, Asumi was accepted by the Tokyo National Space School. Slowly making friends like Shinnosuke Fuchuya (a classmate who had picked on her since their pre-school days back in Yuigahama), boisterous Kei Oumi, chilly, distant Marika Ukita and ultra-cool Shu Suzuki, Asumi inexorably moved closer to her unshakable dream of going to the stars.

Against all odds – she is small, shy, retiring, seems weak and is very poor – Asumi endures and always succeeds. She still talks with Mr. Lion, who is probably the ghost of an astronaut from the Shishigō

Individual instalments in these compelling monochrome volumes are presented as “Missions”; methodically combining into an overarching mosaic detailing the subtle interconnectedness of generations of characters, all linked by the call of distant stars.

Volume 11 includes Missions 65-75, plus a brace of enchanting autobiographical vignettes from the author’s own stargazing teenage years in his Another Spica occasional series, and the story resumes with the hopeful, ebullient dynamic shattered forever…

The gang had always bickered and competed – as friends do – but when Shu was selected to go to America to train for an actual space-shot everybody was delighted for him. Now they must come to terms with the news that he is dead…

Mission: 65 details Shu’s too-brief time at the Space Development Consortium Space Center where intense training triggers a long-incubating hidden disease into a debilitating flare-up. When the doctors contact his estranged father – a political heavyweight in the Japanese government – a flashback reveals a link to another member of the ardent group of astronaut students…

When his little sister Sakura visits Suzuki in hospital, his final inspirational words are of the friends he made by following his own dreams…

Possibly the most moving section of the entire extended epic, Mission: 66 focuses on Shu’s memorial service and how his passing affects the rest of the gang of individualistic oddballs before things lurch back to the quest for space in Mission: 67.

Hurled again into the exhausting drudgery of classes and physical training, the kids bury themselves in effort as they process the fact that the best of them is gone, barely reacting to the news of Suzuki’s replacement on the proposed American space-shot. They are also unaware that Asauri News journalist Ichimura is getting closer to corroborating his suspicions: Marika is not a normal human and her “father” – publicity-shy life-sciences mogul Senri Ukita – has accomplished something at once astonishing and ethically shady following the death of his first daughter years ago…

Mission: 67 finds the driven reporter meeting with even-more obsessed freelancer Yamaji who claims to have proof that Marika is a clone, an unethical secret copy of Senri’s dead daughter…

At that very moment the subjects of their furtive enquiries are also meeting. Like Shu, Marika has fallen out with her controlling father, but he has requested a meeting to discuss the strange fact that her friend died of the same genetic malady which afflicts her and killed her… predecessor…

His arguments to dissuade her from her dream of the stars only make Marika more determined to succeed…

Mission: 69 finds the kids gamely pushing in as their third year of study, acutely aware that only a few will be allowed to start the fourth, whilst in the background Ichimura and Yamaji squabble. They may both want the truth, but it’s increasingly clear that it’s for vastly different reasons…

And in one quiet moment, the grieving gang gather and Marika shares all she knows about her own condition and how it corresponds to what killed Shu…

That night on a rooftop, sad, confused Asumi discusses the events with Mr. Lion as she prepares for the term’s last push. Her entire future depends on the efforts of the next few weeks…

In Mission: 70 Ichimura heads for Yuigahama to visit the family shrine of the Ukitas and, while pondering the ethics of his big story, dreams of the days when he and the other kids talked of going into space. He almost misses Senri’s annual visit to his daughter’s grave but his perseverance is rewarded by an off-the-cuff interview where he challenges the wealthy man’s arrogance in playing with nature and asks the crucial questions “why and for what purpose?”

With answers of a sort, Ichimura then meets Yamaji and makes a deal…

Mission: 71 finds Asumi, Kei, Marika and Fuchuya with the rest of the class heading out to a remote island for another terrifying burst of survival training, but when they arrive the assembled students learn this test is a comprehensive recapitulation of everything they covered in the last three years: a sudden death, make-or-break evaluation, not of knowledge, aptitude or endurance, but spirit…

The arduous ordeal and deep soul-searching continues in Mission: 72 with the latest wrinkle being the cutting of sleep rations to 2 hours per night and news that already some of the class have failed and gone home. Asumi is stoic as ever, fiery Kei uses her anger to push on and Marika is her implacable, impassive self, but in their moments of sleep-time the girls find comfort and solidarity sharing their dreams and aspirations again and realise with relief that they are true friends at last…

After one last punishing push the survivors are congratulated and get on a bus for home, but the tests are not over yet…

Mission: 73 finds Asumi abandoned in the wilderness with a nothing but an envelope of instructions and a punishing time limit to reach her destination. The packet says stop for nothing, not even other students in distress, and the route is punctuated with alarm buttons for quitters to signal for help and admit failure…

As Asumi doggedly storms on she is unaware that nearly-beaten Fuchuya is behind her, drawing strength from her example, but when the diminutive dreamer sees Kei passed out she doesn’t hesitate for a second. Even Fucchy’s screaming that she’ll be disqualified can’t stop her helping a friend…

Mission: 74 continues the impossible race with Asumi running on her own until she encounters the equally distraught Marika. Convinced they have both failed, they proceed on together…

The epic adventure pauses with Mission: 75 as the despondent class gather back at the Academy and Fuchuya – upset that his newly-discovered colour blindness will wash him out of the program if nothing else does – remembers his youth at the fireworks factory in Yuigahama.

When the official announcement comes that the island tests were deliberately impossible to pass and nobody should consider themselves out of the running until announcements come in January, the astounded kids separate for the holidays. However as they head home exhausted, cruel fate again intervenes as the train carrying one of our stars is buried in a landslip…

To Be Continued…

Rounding off this volume are two more wistfully autobiographical ‘Another Spica’ episodes, culled from author Yaginuma’s lovelorn youth. The first finds him recalling and graphically eulogizing a teacher who died too young but changed his life-path, whilst the second shares the unsuspected stresses of living and working in isolation and how inspiration to carry on can come from absolutely anywhere…

These magically moving marvels originally appeared in 2007-2008 as Futatsu no Supika 13 and 14 in the Seinen manga magazine Gekkan Comics Flapper, targeting male readers aged 18-30, but this ongoing, unfolding beguiling saga is perfect for any older kid with stars in their eyes…

Twin Spica ran from September 2001-August 2009: sixteen volumes tracing the trajectories of Asumi and friends from callow students to trained astronauts, and the series has spawned both anime and live action TV series.

This delightful saga has everything: plenty of hard science to back up the informed extrapolation, an engaging cast, mystery and frustrated passion, alienation, angst and true friendships; all welded seamlessly into a joyous coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones, raucous humour and masses of sheer sentiment.

These books are printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format.
© 2012 by Kou Yaginuma. Translation © 2012 Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.