Animal Land volume 1


By Makoto Raiku, translated and adapted by Stephen Paul (Kondansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68233-202-3 (PB)

Born in Gifu on August 1974, Makoto Raiku started his manga career as an assistant to Kazuhiro Fujita before creating his own award-winning strips such as Bird Man, Newtown Heroes, Genmai Blade, and the enormously popular Konjiki no Gash!! (which hit American TV screens as Zatch Bell!!). All these were for Shogakukan’s Shōnen Sunday Super and Weekly Shōnen Sunday.

Following a legal dispute in 2008, the artist moved to rival publisher Kodansha and devised Dōbutsu no Kuni (Animal Country) which began in the October 2009 issues of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. The series ran until February 2014, garnering the Best Children’s Manga Award and filling 14 tankōbon volumes from March 2010 onwards.

The all-ages fable follows the incredible life of a seemingly-human baby abandoned and cast adrift on a river only to wash up in the land of animals: a dog-eat-dog, literally bestial world of raw savagery where the weak always die and only the strong are able to survive.

‘Word 1: Hello, Baby’ opens proceedings with little Monoko, an orphan Tanuki (a tiny raccoon dog indigenous to Japan). Since her parents were eaten by wildcats, she’s been unable to pull her weight in the hard-pressed Tanuki community. The others spend all their time and energy rushing to store enough food for the rapidly approaching winter. It doesn’t look like Monoko’s going to make it…

Her world and existence change forever when she adopts the strange hairless monkey cub which washes up on the river bank one cold day. This is a very strange baby and Monoko insanely decides to become its new mother against all the advice of the village.

In Animal Land all creatures are at odds and cannot understand other species’ cries, but Monoko decides to risk everything – including being eaten by cats such as the fearsome Kurokagi – to steal some milk for the foundling to drink.

Despite the horrifying but successful mission the baby is cold and dying: it has no will to live and the Tanuki elders brusquely tell her to stop wasting everybody’s time and resources. Instead, desperate Monoko cuddles it with her body, sharing her warmth in a futile, lonely struggle to keep it alive one more night. When she awakes, the Tanuki discovers something miraculous and staggeringly game-changing…

The initial episode end with another huge shock: the alien infant can speak her language…

The mystery increases in second instalment ‘Word 2: Baby’s Power’ when the waif reveals that he can converse and understand the speech of all animals – even ultimate predator Kurokagi.

That useful trait leads to the discovery of the dire marauder’s tragic secret and further reshapes the nature and destiny of the savage domain, whilst third and final (for now) chapter ‘Word 3: Baby Cries Over His Name’ sees Monoko’s first maternal crisis as she finds a keepsake from the baby’s biological mother and fears her joyous new world is crumbling around her… until once more the wonder baby comes to her emotional and physical rescue…

Despite what the publishers would have you believe this isn’t just another cute kiddie-book. For starters it’s filled with scatological asides and the audience advisory is 13 and older. Moreover, despite being filled with action, adventure and slapstick/social gaffe humour in the grand manga manner, this tale is filled with scary moments, brutal situations and situations of heartbreaking poignancy. It also has a lot to say about family, community, integration, unity and understanding through plain-talking and communication.

Included in this initial monochrome volume are translator’s notes, a guide to Japanese honorifics, Omake pages (“extra” or “bonus”) of short cartoon strips and a longer piece wherein Makuto Raiku lets us in on the background of and inspiration for the strip: sharing the bittersweet story of his and wife’s best friend Riku – an abandoned, wounded puppy…

More Animal Farm than The Gruffalo or the Tiger Who Came to Tea, this is an enthralling and impressive slice of social fantasy for kids, and would make a great gift for older children getting too big for traditional kids’ stuff.

This monochrome paperback and digital volume is printed in the traditional front-to-back, right-to-left reading manner.
© 2010 Makoto Raiku. English translation © 2011 Makoto Raiku. All rights reserved.

Saint Young Men volume 01


By Hikaru Nakamura, translated by Alethea & Athena Nibley (Kodansha)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-936-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: ‘Tis the Season to be Thoughtful… 9/10

Here’s a divine treat and global sensation with a lot of timely punch and just a touch of wild eclecticism to boost its appeal, all neatly released in English just in time to make your day and make you think…

Born in April 1984 in Shizoku Prefecture, Japan, Hikaru Nakamura is one of the world’s most successful manga creators, thanks mostly to her thought-provoking yet inviting conceptions such as Arakawa Under the Bridge and the bizarrely engaging buddy-comedy under review today.

In September 2006 Seinto Oniisan began as an occasional gag feature in Morning 2 magazine where, due to its rapturous reception, it grew into an unmissable regular narrative strip that remains to this day. The divine comedy has filled 17 tankōbon collections plus all the usual mass-media iterations that follow such popularity: a brace of anime DVDs and films, a live-action series and much more.

In this premiere stunning and sturdy hardback English compilation (or its ethereal digital equivalent), more extensive detail and context can be found in the effusive Foreword Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men Power’ by Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere (who curated a Japanese Exhibition at the British Museum in which Saint Young Men played a major role). Whilst this aids overall comprehension, the book also graciously provides a comprehensive set of Translation Notes for each chapter episode, offering cultural comparison points, theological points of interest and even general notes on modern life in the East.

It sounds like the opening of a joke – and, in fact, it is – but the narrative premise is simple: one day after a particularly arduous millennial turnover, Jesus Christ and Guatama Buddha opt to take a break from Paradise/Nirvana/the Great Beyond and indulge in a kind of gap year experience by re-manifesting as two young guys in Tokyo: living as anonymous mortals; chasing rent, getting picked on, playing with fashions and new technologies and just generally being human. What could possibly go wrong?

The trials begin in ‘Buddha’s Day Off’ as the impoverished pair settle into their tawdry dwelling and ardently discuss the unexpected ways other people respond to them, after which they try adjusting to culture shock but endure even stranger reactions and responses on overcrowded trains and subways in ‘Most Holy Travels’

Man-Toys, gadgets and fashions are perennial fascinations for the pair – their near-infinite logo T-shirt collection often acts as a barometer and commentary for what’s about to occur – but it’s hard to leave their pasts behind and the pair as often visit shrines and churches as theme parks. Sometimes – such as in ‘Another Paradise’ – it’s hard to tell them apart. Moreover, although earthbound, their transcendental natures still adversely affect everything around them, leading to unearthly surprises when they become overfocussed on mundane delights such as shopping in ‘Debut Performance’

‘Oh My Hobby’ finds the holy goofs seeking further homogeneity as Buddha tries screen printing to round out his days whilst Jesus further pursues his dream of being a comedian whilst attempting to curtail his unhappy tendency to make miracles if his concentrates too hard or laughs too much…

Cooling down and discussing their slow assimilation leads to more confusion in ‘Summer Jam at the Community Center’when their oblique mutterings convince a mobbed-up eavesdropper that he’s stumbled into two Yakuza princes trying to get out of “The Life”, after which ‘Buddha and Jesus’s “Can I Do It?”’ reveals how their escalating heavenly energies compel the pair into staying home and trying new pastimes such as drawing manga and throwing pottery…

There’s another innocently bewildering clash with celebrity, commercialism and gangsterism when the inquisitive waifs attend a ‘Sacred Fall Festival’ before Christmas (in its thoroughly formulated Japan-ised form, and celebrated here by a partial conversion to full-colour for their generally monochrome exploits) intersects with an unfortunate ‘Holy Birthday’for Jesus.

That debacle leads to dabbling with disguises to attend the ‘New Year’s Self-Worship’ ceremony, segueing into a nasty brush with human frailty and disease in ‘Hospital Fever’.

Manly vanity rears its inevitable head when Buddha rashly responds to accusations of becoming a ‘Portly Prince?!’, but it’s his scatty roommate who makes an unlikely public scene by losing concentration in ‘The Park Nearest Heaven’. This leads to a necessary but unwise ‘Pilgrimage’ to the shopping mall before these initial devotions conclude with a catastrophic bout of tonsorial ablutions and accidental miracle-making for the ‘Thrice Stranded Bath Drinker’

It’s true to say that in fiction, there are precious few original ideas whereas tone and treatment are everything. Whilst not a new notion, the concept of divine beings popping back to Earth is one that has plenty of antecedents but also infinite appeal and permutations, and here at least, there’s been a vast amount of research undertaken to confirm canonical veracity and deep thinking to keep the jokes fresh and outcomes original.

Charming, funny, brash and subtly challenging, Saint Young Men is a delightful peek into other realms that will leave you hungry for further scriptures and might even lead to a lifelong conversion…
© 2008 Hikaru Nakamura. English translation © 2009 Hikaru Nakamura. All rights reserved.

Available in in both paperback and digital formats, this book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.
Saint Young Men volume 01will be released on December 19th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

The Pits of Hell


By Ebisu Yoshikazu (Breakdown Press)
ISBN: 978-1-91108-108-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Momentous, Unmissable… 8/10

Please be warned: I’ll be using some harsh language further down: if you of your dependents are likely to be offended, please skip this review. You certainly won’t be comfortable reading the book we’re reviewing here…

If you’re one of those people who’s never read a manga tale, or who’s been tempted but discouraged by the terrifying number of volumes these tales can run to, here’s a delicious feast of fantasy fables complete in one book revealing all that’s best about comics from the East in one darkly digestible big gulp.

Although an industry of immense, almost incomprehensible variety, much of Japan’s output is never seen in western translation, so for us, most manga – divided into story genres we easily recognise – can be lazily characterised by a fast, raucous, over-stylised, occasionally choppy style and manner of delivery, offering peeks into the quirks of a foreign culture through coy sensuality, carefully managed action and “aw shucks” conviviality.

It’s not all like that.

This volume gathers emphatically eerie and definitely disturbing short stories for adults that originate from the nation’s rebellious heta-uma movement (equivalent to but not the same as our late 1970s Punk revolution), all crafted by a fringe creator who became a true national treasure…

Ebisu Yoshikazu began as an outsider: a self-trained manga maker who shunned the sleek polish of mainstream Japanese comics to craft deeply personal ant-art yarns, initially for avant-garde counter culture anthology style icon Garo and landmark experiment Jam, but later for many other magazines after his harsh material struck a chord with 1970s-1980s readers, increasingly reeling from social and economic change.

Mr. Yoshikazu was born in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture in October 1947 and raised in Nagasaki, where he was fatefully shaped by the post war trauma that permeated the region and the country. Drawing comics from early on, he was especially influenced by the fantasy works of Osamu Tezuka and Mitsuteru Yokoyama, but as a teenager his life changed when he discovered the gekiga (“Dramatic Pictures”) comics sub-genre as well as American action movies.

He moved to Tokyo in 1970 and – while working menial jobs – began submitting stories to Garo in 1973. His bleak, violently surreal, dream-based efforts featured bizarre, antisocial situations and outcomes and found a welcome – if unpaid – home in the magazine. He became a fan favourite without his knowledge and when years later he finally released a compilation of his tales, was astonished to see it become a huge hit with many reprintings.

The creatively-driven working-class manga-maker – think more Harvey Pekar than Harvey Kurtzman – parlayed his growing fame as an outsider artist and misfit into mass-media celebrity, but latterly suffered a great loss of fame, prestige and revenue following a gambling scandal.

In Japan, commercial betting is illegal except in certain, highly proscribed and policed situations. That doesn’t bother Ebisu Yoshikazu who remains a proud advocate and champion of what many people consider a shameful addiction. His passion for wagers has shaped his life and continues to …

Heta-uma transliterates to “bad-good” or “bad but nice”: glorying in the power of raw, primitivist graphics and narratives that are seductively seditious whilst exploring uncomfortable themes, so please be warned that most of these nine early vignettes are brutally violent and also distressing on other, more intimate levels. If you’re looking for Western equivalents, go no further than the more excessive outings of Gary Panter and Johnny Ryan…

This potent tome reprints that first compilation in English and is preceded (or followed by – depending on your graphic orientation, as the comics portion of the book is traditional manga right to left, end to beginning format) by a series of text features including ‘Why is This So Good?’: a deconstruction of the stories by Garo editor Minami Shinbō from the 1981 original compilation.

‘About these Comics’ offers the author’s own thoughts on the material from 2016 and is followed by extended essay ‘Damn All Gamblers to the Pits of Hell’ by translator/editor Ryan Holmberg affording us not only history, context and insight into the artist but also gauging the effects of his works on the industry and society.

The stories begin with a shocking answer to classroom inattention in ‘Teachers Damned to the Pits of Hell’ after which a poor family hungrily await the results of father’s latest addictive session at the pachinko parlour in ‘Fuck Off’.

Many stories take a hard but always off-kilter look at employment and wage earning. ‘Workplace’ deals with a time when Yoshikazu worked as a sign designer’s much-abused assistant and vicariously, cathartically, depicts what the menial wanted most, whereas ‘Wiped Out Workers’ details a plague of selective narcolepsy that grips salarymen and other hapless toilers during their daily travails.

‘Tempest of Love’ addresses the imbalance and inequality of the sexes as a job-enhancing abacus class devolves into a ghastly crime scene, whilst a punter’s obsessive attention to the sanctioned boat races and his crucial bets result in a strange series of events that can only be explained by ‘ESP’…

More uncomfortable sexual tension is dangerously unleashed at the ‘Late Night Party’ provided by a smug boss before the spiralling cost of living sparks civil unrest and deadly consequences in ‘Battles without Honor and Humanity: A Documentary’.

The walk on the weird wild side then concludes with a phantasmagorical deluge of uncanny situations and crises as a worker takes his son for a walk in ‘Salaryman in Hell’

By no means a work of universal appeal, The Pits of Hell provides a stunning and revelatory look at the other side of Japanese comics: one no fan of the medium can afford to miss.
English edition © 2019 Breakdown Press. Translation and essay © 2019 Ryan Holmberg. All rights reserved.

I Luv Halloween Ultimate Twisted Edition (Cabbage Poot)



By Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman & various (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-42781-072-4 (HB U Twisted) 978-1-59532-831-1 (PB vol. 1) 978-1-59532-832-8 (PB vol. 2) 978-1-59532-833-5 (PB vol. 3)

Are you sick, depraved, demented or just plain ‘not right’? If so (it’s not necessary – but it won’t hurt either) you might want to pick up this darkly wicked little tome to reaffirm your skewed view of reality.

First unleashed in 2005, it spawned two further paperback volumes, a snazzy hardback Ultimate Edition in full-colour and, latterly, eBook editions (all converted from moody monochrome to gaudy sunset shades and blood-spatter hues thanks to the tender ministrations of Michael Kelleher and Glasshouse Graphics)…

This holiday now is primarily one where kids of varying ages go mooching about, begging for sweets, exercising their inalienable rights to practise extortion and generally threating mayhem. Once upon a time, it used to be about predatory monsters roaming the land, terrorising the citizenry and making mischief. Here, those worlds collide and collude…

In I Luv Halloween volume 1 we learn that every Halloween, Finch, Moochie, Pig Pig, Mr. Kitty, Spike, Bubbles & Squeak, Li’l Bith and the rest of the kids join Devil Lad for their annual sugar-coated loot-fest.

Typically, this year it’s all botched up from the get-go ‘cause the very first old lady they accost just gives them fruit, and everyone knows if you don’t get candy right from the start it’s nothing but rubbish all evening. Drastic steps have to be taken, or else this Halloween is ruined…

You don’t know drastic until you see what this band of masked reprobates get up to. These are not your average trick-or-treaters…

Along the way you’ll also meet that friendly old policeman, the vicious, bullying older kids and the really stacked chick who lives next door (they call her “Nips” for suitably scandalous reasons) as well as her doofus boyfriend. See their ultimate fates and give thanks it’s just a comic!

And as the night unfolds – with each kid given his/her/its own chapter to play in – we’ll see that theirs is a very bleak and nasty kind of fun with a vicious undercurrent to the shenanigans. You might even call it tragic if it wasn’t so inappropriately funny…

 

Volume 2 somehow sees another All Hallows Eve in the township of Turgid Meadows, where Finch’s little sister Moochie is inexplicably addressing the issues of Christianity and bodily functions in a distressingly scatological-slash-surgical manner, thanks to set of extremely sharp knives that have become her constant companions.

There are some new kids – such as Hully Gully, Vera, Vinnie and unfortunate Vivian – prowling the streets, even though there had been some doubt about the event actually taking place, what with the plague of flesh-eating zombies attacking the town…

Still, tradition is sacrosanct, so the kids make do as best they can, even though candy seems in short supply and the adults who are still breathing act real weird. Some even try to keep the kids inside, so they can repopulate after the apocalypse, but Finch has a pretty good idea how to deal with them…It has to be quick, though because the Walking Dead are everywhere and have their own ideas about “Hhhik Uh Heeeett”-ing…

Happily, Finch, Devil Lad and the remaining uneaten have an explosive solution to securing the town and remains of the sweet, sweet loot…

 

Volume 3 opens on yet another October festival and again circumstances are conspiring to spoil the fun for Finch, Devil Lad, Mr. Kitty (don’t call him Spencer!) and the rest. This time the town is being attacked by marauding aliens. Sure, some adults are apparently delighted with all the probing that’s going on, but most are just running and screaming or being turned into mobile roman candles by all the indiscriminate heat ray blasts.

Moochie has moved on a bit: now her incessant inquisitiveness is fixated on the miracles of birth and why she hasn’t had a sister yet. At least there’s plenty of fleshy material she can examine with her enhanced surgical techniques, especially after she commandeers kindly Dr. Kramer’s office and surgery…

Pig Pig is, as usual, not quite in tune; asking why the aliens haven’t been deported back to Mexico, whilst new recruits Kevin Kyle Kramer – a black kid who hates being called Triple K – and pious dog-killer Monica do their best to keep up. They almost lose Mr. Kitty entirely when the invaders drag a naked Nips off to their mothership and strange, uncontrollable feelings compel him to follow…

Most importantly, a rival band of kids are also on the streets. Brutish lunch money extorters Bubbles and Squeak are on the prowl, even though the big boss can’t get his mind off Monica and back on candy-scoring…

All the kids know for sure is that no-one’s got any treats to hand over, so they’re supposed to come up with lots of retaliatory tricks, but now something’s just not feeling right anymore…

Worst of all, the incredible secret beneath Kramer’s office threatens to end their annual sweet deal forever…

This book also contains bonus story and cartoon coda to the previous night ‘Friends till the End’: a solo outing for inspired originator and illustrator, 3D concept artist and genuine sick puppy Benjamin Roman (Cryptics, Auntie Agatha’s Home for Wayward Rabbits); a delight for the dark hearted and strong-stomached, supplemented by pin-ups, a Roll Call of characters; instructions for making a Pig Pig Mask (Pig Pig Papier-Mache Madness!); and fan art by Dan Hurd, Liz Siegel, Jeremy Goad, Kevin Harden, Mauricio Arcila, Neil Phyfer, Tara Billinger and “Rez”

Comics veteran Keith Giffen flexes his comedy – and bad taste – muscles in this addictive confection that would win nodding approval from Charles Addams and the producers of any self-respecting splatter movie. Jovial malice is uniquely captured by Roman’s astonishingly enchanting art: his inexplicably charming grotesques are the stuff of any animation studio’s dreams. If you don’t believe me just check out the stupefying Sketchbook sections and frankly alarming Creator Bio feature…

All the above irresistible atrocity has been latterly packed into a deliriously compelling hardback entitled I Luv Halloween Ultimate Twisted Edition (Cabbage Poot), and there’s a new super-complete warts ‘n’ all edition slated for release in January 2020 (slick timing, no?), but if you have no patience or impulse control issues, there’s never been a better time to revisit perhaps the most definitive statement on the hallowed festival known nowhere at all as “Knock! Knock!BOO!! Night” as so callously perpetrated by two grown men who really should have known better…

If you have no fear of the dark, love a gross joke, have a soft side that can be hit by a brilliantly sad twist or two and especially if you don’t care what your immediate family or the clergy think of you, then you really want to read this stuff. Over and over and over and over again. Amen…
© 2005 Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman. All Rights Reserved.

Lafcadio Hearn’s The Faceless Ghost and Other Macabre Tales from Japan: A Graphic Novel


By Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa (Shambhala Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-61180-197-2 (TPB)

If you read prose and love old stories you should really track down the works of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek raconteur laterally renamed Koizumi Yakumo. They are wonderful and truly compelling. He was a pretty impressive character too, so you’d be best served to learn of his remarkable life too…

I’m not certain how the socially pioneering teacher, journalist, historian, translator and archivist would react to seeing some of his most engaging works translated into graphic narratives but as a renowned breaker of borders and flouter of taboos, I suspect he’d approve, even if this gleefully wry collation hadn’t been produced by such stellar luminaries as Scottish author Seán Michael Wilson (Breaking the Ten and Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking) and his frequent collaborator Michiru Morikawa.

Wilson’s life has some parallels with Hearn’s. The Japan-based writer, educator and dedicated Humanist has written political and philosophical tracts such as Goodbye God – An Illustrated Examination of Science Vs. Religion in graphic form and has adapted Western and Eastern literary classics such as Wuthering Heights, A Christmas Carol, Sweeney Todd, and Chinese classics Tao Te Ching and The Garden, as well as original genre pieces such as urban interacial romance The Story of Lee.

Illustrator and manga artist Michiru Morikawa won the 2005 International Manga and Anime Award before going on to illustrate Wilson’s books Buskers, Yakuza Moon, The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts and Musashi, amongst numerous comics series.

Hearn visited Japan as a correspondent in 1890, and fell in love with the land and the culture. He ended his days there in 1904, after marrying, becoming a Japanese citizen, teaching in numerous schools and universities and introducing the western world to the exotic enigmatic East through his writings and translations of its myths and legends.

Absurdly accessible, the tales here are gathered from the nation’s feudal period and open with a samurai yarn dubbed ‘Diplomacy’, wherein a highborn executioner performs his onerous task and plays a subtle and crafty trick upon the imminently departed to ensure that there will be no repercussions from beyond the grave…

That mordantly amusing distraction then gives way to a classic ghost story in ‘The Snow Woman’, wherein a young woodcutter survives an icy encounter with a mystical spirit at the cost of a simple promise. Tragically, in all such stories, a keeping one’s word is always impossible and leads to appalling inescapable circumstances…

Vanity and dissatisfaction fuel the saga ‘Of a Mirror and a Bell’, after the priests of Mugenyama ask the local women to donate their bronze mirrors so they can be cast into a great bell. After complying, one farmer’s wife began to bitterly regret her actions and so intense were her feelings that the mirror could not be melted down.

Wracked with guilt for her shameful intentions and the spoiling of the bell, she took her life, triggering a concatenation of unfortunate events…

After the history-making final clash between Heike (Taira) and Genji (Minamoto) clans, the rulership of Japan was decided for centuries to come. However, the sea battle created thousands of ghosts and ‘Hoichi the Earless’ relates how a blind musician and bard was tricked and beguiled by these restless spirits until a Buddhist priest intervened.

The end result was not an unqualified success…

Straight, inescapable horror drives the brief yet potent tale of a luckless merchant who encounters ‘The Faceless Ghost’, whilst love and friendship inspire the story of a young man in need of bride who prospers after he graciously saves a shark spirit and is uniquely rewarded by ‘The Gratitude of the Samebito’

As recounted in the ‘Author’s Note’ – detailing the origins and source material of the adaptions – the stories are mostly taken from Hearn’s books Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903) and Shadowings (1900), and come packed with sleek, informative and delightfully rambling diversions which add fabulously engaging context to the stories.

Eerie, exotic and wonderfully compelling, these “yokai” stories are gems of unease, disquiet and wonder that no lover of the strange can fail to adore.
© 2015 by Sean Michael Wilson. Illustrations © 2015 by Michiru Morikawa. All rights reserved.

Bakemonogatari volume 1


By OH!GREAT & NISIOISIN, translated by Ko Ransom (Vertical Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-947194-97-7 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fabulously Fresh Fear-Fest… 8/10

Here’s a rare treat with a lot of timely punch and just a touch of wild exoticism to boost its appeal…

Based on his own immensely popular “Light Novel” series Monogatari – 25 volumes since November 2006 with at least three more imminently pending – the incredibly prolific NISIOISIN (sometimes called Nisio Isin and creator of Katanagatari, Kubikiri Cycle and prose adaptations of Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata’s Death Note) here oversees the transformation of his biggest hit serial into manga form by artist OH! Great (AKA Ogure Ito: best known for Air Gear, Tenjo Tenge, Biorg Trinity, Soul Calibur IV and assorted outbreaks of Tekken)…

Phenomenally successful, the Monogatari series began their transformation into manga in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine in 2017 with this retelling of the first adventure. In fact it’s the first of two books and ends on a cliffhanger, but English-language publisher Vertical have slated the concluding book for early January release, so you won’t be on tenterhooks for too long…

Third-year high school student Koyomi Araragi is not normal. That’s mostly to do with having been targeted by a vampire and almost joining the ranks of the undead. Thankfully, he was saved by weird hobo priest Meme Oshino, who has made his life quite interesting ever since…h

The story begins with ‘Hitagi Crab’ as hopeful amorously overachieving Araragi meets a cute but violently defensive (perhaps “murderously psychotic” is more accurate after she almost kills him with the lethal stationery and pencil case tools in her bag!) girl and discovers she weighs practically nothing. Hitagi Senjōgahara‘s density and earthly grounding have been taken by a giant invisible crab monster…

Eager to help – she’s damaged and dangerous, but also incredibly vulnerable and beautiful – Araragi arranges a meeting with Meme, but the outsider priest knows there’s more going on than is being admitted. His harsh response in ‘Bakemono Gatari’ reveals not only the workings and motives of the gods and monsters which still infest the physical modern world, but also the concomitant burden of human sin and misery which attracts them. When cured and liberated Senjōgahara finally admits the long-buried secrets which have twisted and changed her, she makes a seemingly impossible request of her saviours…

To Be Concluded…

Aiding comprehension, the book graciously provides a comprehensive timeline feature with ‘Bakemonogatari in Detail’ offering comparison points between prose and manga iterations, plus lists of other media versions to track for total immersion and enjoyment.
© 2018 – NISIOISIN/Oh!great. All rights reserved.
Available in in both paperback and digital formats, this book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

The Golden Sheep Book 1


By Kaori Ozaki (Vertical Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-947194-80-9 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Moving and Evergreen Family Drama… 9/10

Manga maestro Kaori Ozaki (An Angel Above the Piano, Immortal Rain, The Gods Lie) started her professional comics making at in 1993, aged 15. Since then has she become a byword for smart, compelling, sensitive storytelling, whether in the realms of high-flying fantasy or in more grounded, rationalistic human scaled stories.

Originally published in Japan as Kin no Hitsuji in Kodansha’s Afternoon magazine, The Golden Sheep falls into the latter category: examining bonds of friendship, burdens of family, dreams of success and the eternal youthful drive to escape and get away from the past. The serial began in September 2017 and ran until April 2019.

Childhood friendships are pure and earnest and wholehearted, but as Tsugu Miikura discovers, not always clearheaded or totally open. Growing up in a rural mountain community, she and classmates Sora, Yuushin and Asari swore lifelong fidelity – even burying a time-capsule of their secret wishes for the future in their favourite spot – but when the Miikuras moved to Osaka things changed. Now, six years later, with her dad gone, the large brood have been forced to move back and live with an aunt.

Although on the surface the high school pals are just bigger, there are deeply hidden and constantly growing divisions. Big city girl Tsugu now talks funny and has become a world-class rock guitarist, but doesn’t believe her soul is any different. Nevertheless, she can’t understand what has happened to her besties.

Studious Asari is superficially the same, but shows signs of becoming a really mean and backbiting sneak, whilst manga-obsessed, anime-loving Sora is now sullen, perpetually skips school and has frequent accidents that leave him battered and bruised. The biggest change is valiant Yuushin. Once a noble, honest, champion of the underdog, he’s become a cool, aloof bad boy leading a pack of young thugs and possibly even involved in criminal acts…

As Tsugu attempts to resume her place in the group, the changes they’ve all experienced push her further away from them and even her own family.

When she thwarts a suicide attempt by one of her beloved companions – at huge personal cost – she decides to run away to Tokyo with the despondent survivor. Penniless and without shelter, they skirt the fringes of a sordid world, only to stumble into another shocking surprise to her already-reeling sense of self and worth…

Alternating winning jolly charm with moving glimpses of the crisis besetting Japan’s directionless youth, The Golden Sheep promises to become a classic modern romance and survival testament for Young Adults: a book with lots to say and in a most captivating manner.
© 2018 Kaori Ozaki. All rights reserved.

Magus of the Library volume 1


By Mitsu Izumi, translated by Stephen Kohler (Kodansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-823-2 (TPB)

Everyone knows reading is a magical experience and many fanciful tales have delightfully taken that premise at its most literal. This particular offering comes from modern manga maestro Izumi Mitsu who’s a bit of a mystery herself: preferring to let a canon of short stories and such serialised gems as 7th Garden and Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai act as her credentials.

Magus of the Library was first seen in good! Afternoon as Toshokan no Daimajutsushi and has thus far filled two volumes. It’s also made the translation jump and is waiting on English-language shelves for your rapt consideration…

In a wondrous Eastern kingdom, literature is worshipped and books are venerated. Reading them is a social privilege shared with all and fostered through a string of public libraries. Sadly, the tomes themselves have become objects of great value. That means some people keep private collections and others think they have the right to dictate who reads what…

In the rural village of Amun, a strange half-breed boy named Theo Fumis is utterly addicted to reading – especially pirate adventures. A poor slum-kid disgraced by blonde hair and pointed ears, he is the subject of much abuse, particularly from merchant-turned-librarian Ossei Menes who claims the urchin is unworthy to even touch books, let alone borrow them…

Luckily, he has a few friends, a devoted – albeit broken – family, a rich imagination and unflagging optimism to reinforce his hunger to read and learn. Moreover, one day he will definitely make the pilgrimage to the incredible, fabled Aftzaak: City of Books, where prejudice and injustice don’t exist. He just knows he will…

That dream comes one step closer when a quartet of riders enter Amun. They are Kafna: legendary warrior-librarians dedicated to preserving books and the status quo allowing all to partake of knowledge. After their leader Sedona befriends little Theo, he begins to get an inkling of their true power and purpose. The enigmatic riders are in search of a wild grimoire, teeming with magic it can no longer safely contain, but soon suspect they have stumbled onto a long-prophesied chosen one who will reshape and reconnect the world…

They better hope so, for as well as rampant escaped magic dark and ingrained bigotry, peril comes constantly courtesy of dangerous forces from beyond slowly gathering and focussing their attention on the land of literature…

Packed with wide-eyed wonder and traditional adventure set pieces, Magus of the Library traces the first steps on Theo’s path of destiny with winning exuberance and plenty of action: a delightful trip every kid and all their imaginative elders will be happy to share.
© 2018 Mitsu Izumi. English translation © 2019 Mitsu Izumi. All rights reserved.

Cardcaptor Sakura Collector’s Edition volume 1


By Clamp, translated & adapted by Mika Onishi, Anita Sengupta & Karen McGillicuddy: lettered by Aaron Alexovich (Kodansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-751-8 (HB)
After beginning as an 11-strong manga dojinshi (self-publishing or amateur) group in the late-1980s, Kuranpu – better known as CLAMP – eventually stabilised as primarily writer Ōkawa Nanase and artists Igarashi Satsuki, Nekoi Tsubaki & Mokona (Apapa). From 1989 their seamless collaborations on such series as RG Veda, Clamp Detective School, Magic Knight Rayearth, Legal Drug, xxxHolic, Chobits and so many more revolutionised Japanese comics throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.

Beginning their profession endeavours in the shōjo (teen female) marketplace, the collective quickly began challenging established forms and eventually produced material for far more mature and demanding readerships. They even crafted a shared universe between their many divergent series, and sales in collected tankōbon volumes of their 28 different titles to date far exceeds 100 million copies.

This monolithic hardback celebration launches a line of stunning archival tomes re-presenting one of their most memorable mystic yarns: the series which made CLAMP a global creative force and created a multi-media and merchandising phenomenon which includes films, TV, music, games, apparel, themed cafes and anything else marketers could conceive of.

Kādokyaputā Sakura originally ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi (Good Friends Magazine) from May 1996 to July 2000, and was eventually compiled as 12 volumes of magical fantasy.

Cardcaptor Sakura features 10-year old Sakura Kinomoto, roaming the comfortably familiar environs of Tomoeda City while attempting to retrieve semi-sentient magical cards embodying different elemental, natural and physical forces before their unleashed power spells disaster for the world…

In her quest to restore these “Clow Cards” (created by sorcerer Clow Reed and imprisoned in a mighty book until their escape), dauntless Sakura is aided and advised by shapeshifting familiar Cerberus – whom she calls Kero-Chan. As “the Creature of the Seal” he was ensorcelled to keep the cards inside the titanic tome… before somebody’s inquisitiveness let all the totems out…

It helps that little Sakura has manifested natural, if untutored, mystic abilities since the escape, which the guardian beast is teaching her to properly utilise…

Significant others in her complex life include her single parent dad Professor Fujitaka Kinomoto, mean big brother Tōya and older boy-crush Yukito Tsukishiro and that all have secrets of their own that will be made known in the near future. Her greatest ally is friend and classmate (and quite possibly and potentially much more) Tomoya Daidouji: a super-wealthy confidante who diligently films all the recapture missions and provides Sakura with suitable costumes for each astounding adventure…

Elements of tragedy are fostered by the fact that Sakura’s mother is long dead, and that brief happy marriage latterly provoked an acrimonious division in the Kinomoto and Daidouji families that still triggers repercussions to this day…

The episodic escapades gathered here find the neophyte overcoming understandable doubts and fears while surviving on-the-job training by dominating and defeating the Windy, Fly, Watery and Flower cards after increasingly difficult efforts, but blithely unaware that a secret rival for control of the Clow Cards is surreptitiously stalking her…

To Be Continued…

In 2016 a sequel serial – Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – dealing with Sakura’s junior high school years stared running in Nakayoshi. The saga continues…

Following earlier translated editions from Tokyopop, Madman Entertainment and Dark Horse Manga, Kodansha have established their own English-language imprint for this luxurious reissue (complete with free gift) which also offers comprehensive contextualising ‘Translation Notes’. The second volume in this series is set for a mid-September release and would combine with this book as an ideal Christmas present for the next generation of comics – or card – collectors…
© CLAMP® Shigatsu Tsuitachi Co., Ltd/Kodansha Ltd. English translation © CLAMP® Shigatsu Tsuitachi Co., Ltd/Kodansha Ltd. All rights reserved.
This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ format. Cardcaptor Sakura Collector’s Edition volume 1 will be released on 27th June 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Knights of Sidonia volume 1


By Tsutomo Nihei, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-80-3

As I’ve often said, these days nobody does hard comics science fiction like the Japanese – although admittedly our own 2000AD, certain French comics artisans and the inimitable Warren Ellis are keeping the flag flying ahead of much of even manga’s greatest masters in their own mostly-unacknowledged way…

In the tech-obsessed East, the tough, no-nonsense, nuts-and-bolts mystery and refined imagination of star flight have long been blended with more fanciful and romantic futuristic themes to captivate at least five generations since Osamu Tezuka first started the ball rolling in the 1950s, making space commonplace and conceptually comfortable for the Japanese.

We in the Western world have been simultaneously enraptured and frantically trying to catch up, ever since some – too few, alas – of these manga tales first began to be translated into English at the end of the 1980s.

One of the most talented and respected proponents of the genre is Tsutomu Nihei whose triumphs have ranged from wholly self-created graphic epics such the stunning cyberpunk thriller Blame!, its prequel NOiSE, and Biomega to impressive stints on major commercial properties such as comics iterations of video game Halo and miniseries Wolverine: Snikt! for Marvel.

Born in 1971 and working in the field since 1998, the author prefers to let his works speak for him. Shidonia no Kishi began in 2009, debuting in Kodansha’s Seinen title Bessatsu Shonen Magazine and running to 13 volumes on its conclusion in September 2015.

The premise is familiar yet evergreen. A millennium from now Earth is gone. In 3394 our solar system has been destroyed by unstoppable alien monsters and the survivors of humanity have scattered to the stars in vast self-contained generational vessels as much rock as rocket ship. The diaspora has sent colonies hurtling ever outward seeking escape and survival, whilst within them humans have slowly become something different…

The eponymous Knights of Sidonia are the young pilots gifted enough to pilot colossal humanoid fighter vessels that defend the survivors and scavenge interstellar resources for the ever-moving colony our story concerns…

The story begins with ‘Nagate Tanikaze’s Choice’ as an unexpected event occurs. Unknown to all the inhabitants of the hive-like colony ship, years ago, an old man took his infant grandson and vanished deep into the bowels of the vessel. Raised in utter isolation with only tapes, a flight simulator/VR trainer and stolen food, the boy grew into a tough, hardy and independent survivor.

When, after three years, Nagate Tanikaze finally accepts that the corpse in the chair is no longer his “gramps”, he regretfully heads up in search of food and is soon caught by the incredulous authorities. Starving and impossibly weak, he adamantly refuses to undergo the commonplace genetic procedure that will enable him to photosynthesise starlight. He might well be the only traditionally human being on Sidonia…

His captors-turned-benefactors accept his idiosyncrasies and welcome him into their austere, oddly passionless society, but some people seem to seethe with hostility at Tanikaze’s presence. He is assigned quarters at a dorm and welcomed by Ms. Hiyama, a motherly amalgam of human, bear and cyborg. Nagate spends his time acclimatising by aimlessly wandering the vast labyrinthine cocoon which has patterned itself on an idealised 20th century Japan, but trouble still finds him after he wanders into a female photosynthesis chamber and is beaten up by the outraged girls “feeding” inside…

In the higher echelons of the ship, passive panic is gripping the ship’s leaders. Long-range sensors have spotted a Gauna – one of the Brobdingnagian bio-horrors that invaded and destroyed Earth ten centuries past – and with grim fatality the Garde pilots are mobilised.

Tanikaze has been tested and found to be a superb pilot prospect. As the ship goes on alert, his actual training begins, converting his years on the simulator into hands-on experience…

‘Nagate Tanikaze’s Maiden Battle’ finds the trainee mecha-rider still experiencing some prejudice but making his first friend in pretty Izana Shinatose, a fellow Garde pilot who adopts the outsider, acting as his guide and social mentor. Izana is warm and welcoming so it’s not too long before Nagate accepts “her” odd situation as a third-gendered, asexual parthenogenetic hermaphrodite. “She” also seems to be mildly telepathic…

Testing on the newest simulator, the outcast astounds all his classmates by scoring far above the machine’s assessment parameters but the purely physical – and appallingly uncomfortable and embarrassing – aspects of wearing a working spacesuit and dealing with the psychological pressures of toiling in the limitless void still challenges Tanikaze’s resolve and mental resources.

And even training is deadly work. As two squads of Mecha extract ice from a passing asteroid the simple drill turns into a disaster when a Gauna ambushes the novices…

‘Eiko Yamano’s Starry Heavens’ recalls that cadet’s spurning of the students’ superstitious pre-flight ritual before returning to her present as the star-beast consumes her and adds her DNA to its metamorphic mass, simultaneously gravely damaging Tanikaze’s vessel. The telemetry from his ship indicates he’s near death…

Aboard Sidonia, their superiors can only write off the kids and begin readying their only effective weapon – a Heavy Mass Cannon that should push the nigh-unkillable free-floating carnivore far out of range…

The Sidonians are astonished when Nagate apparently regains consciousness and valiantly confronts the gigantic horror slowly assuming Yamano’s form. Incomprehensibly driving it back, he is dragged away by his comrades just as the huge projectile from the mass cannon devastatingly hits home…

‘Norio Kunato’s Fury’ finds the recovering Nagate plagued by ghastly dreams of Eiko’s death – and particularly her imagined transubstantiation into a Gauna. He should be dead but refuses even to give in to the pace of his own healing and soon drags himself on crutches back to lectures. When Izana sees him leaning on willowy Norio Kunato in moments of dizziness, the outraged asexual storms off in a huff…

Baffled Tanikaze only gets the chance to make amends at the Gravity Festival – an annual function that allows the barbarian boy opportunity to eat as much actual food as he can hold – but is distracted by the attentions of fellow pilot Hoshijiro Shizuka who has brought his wounded Mecha and battered body back to Sidonia after the Gauna ambush. However, when haughty Kunato insults and assaults Izana, Nagate goes crazy and jumps the elitist bigot. Their battle wrecks the fair, and the outcast learns that many of his fellow pilot candidates feel he is unworthy to ride the giant guardian mecha…

This first monochrome volume (also available in digital formats) concludes with ‘Mochikuni Akai’s Glory’ as the trainees continue their steep and brutal learning curve. The repelled Gauna is gradually, inexorably approaching Sidonia again. Moreover, it’s clear that not all the populace despise the new kid. As the first person to fight – let alone survive – a Gauna attack, Tanikaze is apparently held in high regard by the older Guardians.

When hot-shot pilot Akai invites Nagate and Izana to a private paradise of artificial seas and beaches, it is to reveal that he and his fellow officers have been tasked with deflecting the beast’s next attack. Although the party is enjoyable and the surroundings stunning, the cadets can’t help but feel they’re intruders at a Last Supper…

To Be Continued…

Like Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven and other masters of the art form, Tsutomu Nihei frequently works in a notional shared continuity (the monstrous Gauna first appeared in his earlier series Abara), but there’s no sense of having missed anything in this premier instalment of a wonderfully engrossing, gloriously engaging epic of Horatian heroism and Mankind’s Last Stand.

Compelling, subtle, spectacular and even funny, this is a yarn no adventure aficionados or sci-fi fanatics should miss.

This book is printed in the traditional Japanese right to left, back to front format.
© 2013 Tsutomu Nihei. All rights reserved.