Astro Boy volume 5

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By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-680-9 (TPB)

From beginning his professional career in the late 1940s 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 in his own country and, ultimately, across the globe. 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 fairy tale 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 fifth monochrome digest volume (173 x 113 mm in the physical world and any size you like if you get the eBook edition) 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 and one of post-war Japan’s better exports) 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 period, Astro spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon boom, starred in comicbook specials and featured in 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 later 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…

One day, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or indeed, any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot, the Prof 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 providing friends and admirers the familiar environment turned up another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio)…

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

‘Crucifix Island’ originally ran January through April, 1957 in Shōnen Magazine and begins with an explanation of why most robots are generally humanoid before concentrating on obsessive Doctor Tozawa who channelled his ancient ninja lineage to create an ultimate shape-changing mechanoid. He was interrupted and arrested before he could complete his masterpiece but that was then and this is now where our story properly begins…

Following a manic prison break, Tozawa and his new crooked cronies wash up on and take over a desolate island housing one hundred thousand robots operating the deepest and most sophisticated uranium mine on Earth. The merest by-product is a daily fortune in other precious ores and gems…

Meanwhile, at the Isle’s Robot School Astro is having problems with another young automaton. Pook is troubled because he’s incomplete: his “father” was arrested and imprisoned before he could make his boy perfect…

When Pook and Tozawa are reunited, the mad scientist ambushes Astro, harvesting his body for the parts needed to complete his dream robot. The troubled mechanoid finally gains the power to change shape…

Sadly, one thing that never changes is human greed and Tozawa’s fellow fugitives turn on him when he ignores their pleas to plunder the discarded mountain of gems. Inviting their army of criminal comrades to take over the island, they try to kill the now repentant technologist. With his breath fading, the Doctor repairs Astro to tackle the thieves, but nobody anticipated Pook’s reaction to gaining his full powers or how that would affect the multitude of lethal digging robots…

After a tremendous battle order is eventually restored but not everybody makes it out alive…

Running in Shōnen Magazine from February to April 1960, ‘Space Snow Leopard’ details how frosty precipitation across Earth steals energy from robots and machines. Seemingly unaffected, Astro is challenged by a space wizard and his six-legged killer feline Lupe, but barely escapes as they continue softening up the planet for an alien takeover.

On the run, Astro consults his school friends hoping organic humanity can prevail against the bizarre duo. Ultimately however it takes humans and robots working together and the invention of a giant amalgamated mecha comprised of many smaller automatons working in unison to save the world…

‘The Artificial Sun’ first ran between December 1959 and February 1960 and concludes this compilation in glorious style as a ship at sea reports a deadly floating fireball causing weather disruptions. Fearing the worst, the International Council of Police Organizations consult super-cop Sherlock Holmspun to tackle the crisis. His pride in in a swift breakthrough is soon scotched, however, when the council insist he take along some competent backup/additional firepower in the form of a robot codenamed Mighty Atom …

With the game afoot, the odd couple track down prime suspect Professor Hirata and his deadly monster, but will Holmspun’s prejudice jeopardise the mission… or will his dreadful secret shame leave them all unable to fight off the deadly fireball beast and the real culprit behind it?

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.

Blade of the Immortal volume 1: Blood of a Thousand


By Hiroaki Samura translated by Dana Lewis & Toren Smith (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-239-9

Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1970, manga master Hiroaki Samura differs from many of his contemporary colleagues in that he actually pursued classical art training before abandoning oil paints and easels for the monochrome freedom and easy license of the “whimsical drawings” industry.

He was, however, plucked from college in the early 1990s before finishing his degree, to find huge success creating the astonishing fantasy saga Mugen no Jūnin (The Inhabitant of Infinity) for Seinen magazine Afternoon.

The series ran from June 25th 1993 to December 25th 2012, a total of 30 volumes which spectacularly blended ubiquitous Samurai comics themes and scenarios with vengeful supernatural plots, political intrigues, existential philosophy and punk-era nihilism. Its driven, murderously efficient antihero constantly deployed his outrageously eccentric arsenal of fanciful edged weapons, whilst pondering the merits of salvation and the meaning and point of living too long…

The series was picked by Dark Horse in 1996 and released as Blade of the Immortal, first as a monthly comicbook series (the first six issues of which comprise this monochrome masterpiece) and, from 2007 onwards, exclusively in collected graphic novel editions. These days you can take the creative anachronism one step beyond and enjoy the high-energy antics in digital fashion…

One note of caution for purists: the series’ dialogue is written in an updated, quirkily moderne literary style which strives for emotional veracity rather than (faux) period authenticity, so it might all be a little disconcerting at first…

Set in middle of the Tokugawa Shogunate (between 1600 and 1868 CE), this first sublimely engaging volume opens with ‘About the Translation’ – a prose section explaining the translation process and the symbology of the piece – before the graphic miracles begin with ‘Prologue: Criminal’; introducing debased and unsavoury ronin Manji: one-eyed outlaw and weary killer looking for peace and redemption in all the wrong places…

The “Slayer of 100 Good Men” – including his own peacekeeper brother-in-law – Manji is currently stalking Gyobutsu “Johnny”: a mass-murderer who kills his victims whilst disguised as a priest.

When a cunning trap goes wrong, the debased ronin manfully ignores a pistol shot through his brain to finish his sacrilegious quarry.

This ronin is no longer as other men. There are worms in his head, and as they knit his inexplicably non-fatal wound back together, Manji broods.

In his despicable past he was a cheap sell-sword who killed as he pleased. When his misdeeds brought him into conflict with his “cop” brother-in-law he simply butchered him. The shock drove his sister Machi mad.

She was the only thing Manji ever cared about…

Yaobikuni has no problem with living forever – she won’t die until she’s saved every soul in Japan – and when the unkillable reprobate again meets the 800-year old nun who inflicted on him the sacred Kessen-chu bloodworms which can heal any hurt, she draws him into the old pointless discussion about salvation.

Yaobikuni urges him to give up the sword, but all he wants to do is die….

Even if he could, it’s no longer an option now that he has to care for his grievously damaged sister Machi…

The problem is savagely solved when the vengeful brother and 20-strong gang of “Johnny” abduct her, determined to make her murderous brother pay emotionally and physically for the death of their leader.

Manji’s botched rescue attempt leaves him triumphant above a sea of corpses and utterly alone in the world…

Pushed too far, he finds Yaobikuni and offers her a deal: if he kills one thousand truly evil men, she must remove the Kessen-chu and let Manji rest at last.

Despite misgivings that he’s just found another way to keep on killing, the nun agrees…

‘Conquest’ debuts young Rin, whose father Asano was targeted for slaughter by a merciless gang of anarchist thugs calling themselves the Ittō-ryū.

Long ago, the grandfather of their leader Anotsu Kagehisa had been shamefully and unjustly expelled from Asano’s Mutenichi-ryū fencing dojo, and the grandson resolved to destroy all such schools and the socially stratified, arrogantly smug advocates of privilege who populate them.

Gathering an army of similarly aggrieved, like-minded rebels and outcasts, Anotsu murdered many Swords-masters: destroying their legacies and accumulating a powerful army before seeking his ultimate triumph over a despised ancestral enemy…

After ending Rin’s father, Anotsu gave her mother O-Toki to his men, but told them to leave the little girl alone.

Rin never saw her mother again and now, aged sixteen, the last sword of the Mutenichi- ryū School is in the metropolis of Edo looking for payback. What she finds is a jolly little nun who suggests she seek out a maimed-and-mangy, mean-looking ronin to act as her bodyguard…

They don’t hit it off. Manji is condescending and patronising and wants her to prove her contention that members of Ittō-ryū are genuinely evil before he subtracts them from his target tally of 1000 human monsters…

Reaching an agreement of sorts, the pair join forces, unaware that Rin has been followed by Anotsu’s macabre lieutenant Kuroi Sabato. The deranged psycho-poet has been sending taunting verses to the girl ever since that fateful night, whilst secretly treasuring his macabre keepsake of her mother O-Toki all these lonely years…

Now he’s ready for Rin to complete a ghastly set of horrific personalised trophies, but the satanic stalker has never met – or killed – anyone like Manji before…

The eerie epic closes here with ‘Genius’ wherein the decidedly odd couple seek aid and assistance from an old friend of Rin’s father. Retired samurai Sōri has dedicated his remaining years to becoming an artist, but still struggles to master the tricky discipline of “sword-painting”.

The uncouth Manji can barely contain his scornful taunts, especially as the artist seems unwilling to assist a lady in distress, apparently far more concerned with the trivial problem that he can never get the reds right in his compositions…

Of course, the revenant ronin has no idea that once Sōri was the Shogun’s Ninja …

More of Anotsu’s psycho-killer goons have followed Rin and Manji to the painter’s lodgings however, looking for the blade-wielding girl genius who killed the lethally adept Kuroi. When they attack the sleeping Rin, they soon discover to their everlasting regret the mettle of her new allies…

In the stillness after the slaughter, Rin and Manji move on to continue their vendetta against the Ittō-ryū, but Sōri regretfully remains behind to pursue his art. At least now he knows what pigments suit him best…

‘An Interview with Hiroaki Samura’ and a selection of cover illustrations from the comicbook iteration complete this viscerally brutal, staggeringly beguiling first volume of mythic martial mastery…

Although crafting other works such as the western Emerald, romantic comedies, erotic works and horror stories such as Night of the Succubus and Bradherley’s Coach, Blade of the Immortal is unquestionably Mr. Samura’s signature creation and a truly unparalleled delight for fans of not just manga but for all lovers of dark fantasy.
© 1996, 1997 Hiroaki Samura. All rights reserved. English translation rights arranged through Kodansha Ltd. New and adapted artwork & text © 1996, 1997 Studio Proteus and Dark Horse Comics Inc. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics Inc. All rights reserved.

The Story of Lee volume 3


By Seán Michael Wilson & Piarelle (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-195-6

Just in time to make my St. Valentines’ day perfect comes the concluding volume of an engaging romance that’s kept fans on charmed tenterhooks for almost a decade now.

After far too long, the final instalment of the endearing confection which began delighting readers in 2011 brings some painful tension to a bittersweet transatlantic/transpacific shojo manga, which like its subject matter and stars was the happy product of more than one country…

As written by Scottish author Seán Michael Wilson (Breaking the Ten, Sweeney Todd, Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking), The Story of Lee details the growth and relationships of a restless Hong Kong girl who falls for a young Scots poet and teacher.

Lee endured frustrated dreams dutifully working in her father’s shop. The situation was uncomfortable: although he meant well, the traditionally-minded parent disapproved of almost everything Lee did and never stinted in telling her so. His disparagement and constant pushing for her to achieve something (becoming a dentist) whilst staying true to his old-fashioned ideas was tearing her apart, and Wang, the nice, proper Chinese boy he perpetually forced upon her, was a really creepy turn-off…

What they never realised was that Lee was a closet poet and pop music junkie besotted with western culture, particularly myth-laden London. In those unwelcome fascinations she was clandestinely supported by her frail, aging grandmother and unconventional Uncle Jun, a globe-trotting playboy who long ago abandoned convention and tradition to follow his own dreams to America…

At 24 Lee was being gradually eroded away until she met gorgeous teaching temp Matt MacDonald. Exotically Scottish, polite and charming, he was also a sensitive, talented poet…

Lee quietly defied her father and her relationship with Matt deepened, but when tragedy struck and grandmother was no longer a factor, further upheaval occurred after Matt announced that he was returning to his home thousands of miles away.

He dropped his bombshell and asked her to go with him…

Against all odds and family sentiment and via a memorable stopover in London, the lovers make it to Edinburgh – Matt’s home town – and Lee enrols in college on a one-year student visa. Matt too goes back into full-time study…

The city is a revelation: so many old and beautiful buildings, unlike HK where everything is always being torn down and rebuilt, and perhaps it’s just that dizzying cultural adjustment which makes her feel Matt is acting a little differently now that he’s in his on his own turf again…

Or maybe it’s the oddly intimate relationship he has with the old college chum they’re crashing with? Richard is warm, welcoming and coolly into all the right music, but she can’t shake the feeling that his relationship with her man might go beyond the normal bonds of friendship…

Over following days Lee’s apprehensions increase as Matt gleefully shows her around the nostalgic landmarks of his past and apparent proofs of Richard’s feelings begin to emerge. Moreover, her charming man seems to be changing too: his gentle patience evaporates; he’s snappish and even reacts jealously when other students – and even the local musicians she slavishly seeks out – pay attention to her. One thing she cannot adjust to is the undercurrent of hostility and casual aggression expressed by the young men in Scotland…

Lee has never felt more vulnerable. She is a world away from home and security and increasingly wonders if she’s made the biggest mistake of her life. As tensions rise and the nurturing warmth the lovers shared deteriorates further, unexpected aid appears in the form of Uncle Jun who pops up for a visit and offers some startling advice…

The tale resumes here as Lee thrives academically and makes friends among the students – particularly Chinese classmate Bo – but Matt is changing more rapidly as he falls further under the sway of Richard and begins neglecting his studies to hang with his band…

Meeting his parents is an uncomfortable moment for the sensitive Lee and the mounting tensions come to an ironic head when news comes from Hong Kong.

Increased political unrest has led to an assault on her father. He cannot work and Lee feels compelled to cut her studies short and return to run the shop. No one has asked her to, but she understands duty and responsibilities even if Matt has seemingly forgotten them…

With excellent art from much-lauded London-based debutante Piarelle (AKA Pamela Lokhun) taking over from previous illustrators Chie Kutsuwada (volume 1) and Nami Tamura (volume 2), the age-old story unfolds with understated power as the lovers make decisions that will that will affect everybody and satisfy no one…

Supplemented by a copious Glossary and Notes section defining the specific vagaries of accent and slang whilst offering geographical and historical perspective on the many actual locations depicted, this is a deliciously compelling drama playing with well-established conventions and idioms of romantic fiction and teen soap opera.

With beguiling subtlety, The Story of Lee explores themes of cultural difference, mixed-race-relationships, family and friendship pressures and the often-insurmountable barrier of different childhood experiences and expectations to weave an enchanting tale of independence, interdependence and isolation.

Moving and memorable, this is a timeless tale for modern lovers that you really should enjoy. And now that’s it’s all over, surely a bumper compendium can’t be far away…
© 2019 Seán Michael Wilson & Piarelle.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms


By Fumiyo Kouno (jaPress/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-721-1 (HB)

First published in 2003/2004 in Japan’s Weekly Manga Action Yūnagi no Machi, Sakura no Kuni (Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms) is an award-winning (2004 Grand Prize for manga, Japan Media Arts Festival and the 2005 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize Creative Award) collection of interlinked, generational short stories. The compelling stories deal with the aftermath of the atom bombing of Hiroshima, and particularly the treatment of bomb-affected survivors (“hibakusha”) by a culture that has traditionally shunned imperfection and studiously ignored unpleasant truths.

The book was made into an award-winning feature film and radio serial in 2007.

The project was instigated by her editor rather than Fumiyo Kouno (or Kōno Fumiyo, if you’d like to acknowledge her actual name): a native of modern Hiroshima and manga maker (Kokko-san; In a Corner of This World), who apparently never considered herself as being affected by the ghastly events of August 6th 1945.

The first story – ‘Town of Evening Calm’ – is set in 1955 and follows teenager Minami Hirano as she goes about her daily life in the slowly-recovering city. She lives with her ailing mother and sister in a seedy shack and ruminates on those she’s lost: father and two sisters to the bomb and baby brother Asahi who was mercifully staying with rural relatives when the bomb hit.

She hasn’t seen him since that day. Her aunt thought it best to keep the healthy boy away, and subsequently adopted him. The surviving family bravely struggle as seamstresses and clerks, trying to save enough money to visit him. Minami has an admirer; a shy young man named Yutaka Uchikoshi, who tries bombarding the quietly independent girl with presents, but ten years after the bomb, the explosion is inexorably still claiming victims. As tragedy looms, Minami is unaware that her long-lost brother is coming to see her…

Follow-up ‘Country of Cherry Blossoms’ is divided into two separate tales. The first is set in Tokyo in 1987 with tomboy schoolgirl Nanami Ishikawa railing against her life. She is Asahi’s daughter – a second-generation victim – and has never met her hibakusha relatives, but when her brother Nagio is hospitalised she sneaks into his room with new friend Toko Tone and showers him with cherry blossom petals to show him the spring he’s missing, unaware that his asthmatic condition is considered by many to be the taint of the bomb…

Admonished by her grandmother, she goes on about her life but as the family moves nearer the hospital, she abruptly loses touch with Toko…

Part Two takes up the story in 2004. Asahi has recently retired and moved in with Nanami, when medical graduate Nagio mentions that he has seen Toko at the hospital where he works. Nanami has other things to worry about: Asahi is disappearing for days at a time and she thinks he might be senile…

One day she follows him, and – just as years before with Nagio – Toko, a virtual stranger, appears and shares her journey and revelations. The troubled old man is travelling to the rebuilt Hiroshima, driven by an irresistible impulse, and as they follow him Nanami discovers that real reason Toko stopped seeing her family…

Pensive, serene and deftly sensitive, almost elegiac, this book deals with uncomfortable issues by advocating tolerance, understanding and endurance rather than the bombastic unyielding defiance of Keiji Nakazawa’s landmark Barefoot Gen, and the message hits home all the harder for it.

Initially reluctant to produce a work about Hiroshima, Ms. Kōno discovered a strong voice within – and her own unrealised, unexpressed attitudes – when faced with the behaviour still directed toward hibakusha more than five decades later. As she states in the Afterword of this superb commemorative hardcover, it was “unnatural and irresponsible for me to consciously try to avoid the issue” and she decided that “drawing something is better than drawing nothing at all.”

As far as I can tell this moving portmanteau is still only available in paperback form but it’s well worth tracking down: a quietly magnificent tribute to the truism that “Life goes on” and the proposition that even polite and passive intolerance should always be resisted. This is a book every politician in the world should read. It also holds a harsh lesson every cosy, comfortable family in existence needs to absorb… and it needs to be back in print and available digitally, too.
© 2003, 2009 Fumiyo Kouno. All Rights Reserved.

I Luv Halloween Volume 1


By Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59532-831-1

Are you sick? Are you depraved, demented or just plain ‘not right’?

If So, it’s not necessary – but it won’t hurt either – if you pick up this darkly wicked little tome to reaffirm your skewed view of reality.

First seen in 2005, it spawned two further paperback volumes, a hardback Ultimate Edition in full-colour and, latterly, eBook editions (similarly 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 is primarily one where kids of varying ages go mooching about begging for sweets and threating mayhem. It used to be about predatory monsters roaming the land, terrorising the citizenry and making mischief. Here, those worlds collide and collude…

Every Halloween, Finch, Moochie, Pig Pig, Bubbles and Squeek, Li’l Bith, Mush and the rest of the kids get together for their annual sugar-coated loot-fest.

But 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 that really stacked chick who lives next door 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…

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

Toys based on these sick puppies will sell and sell and sell – if you can bear to liberate them from any stout packaging or go to sleep in the same room as them…

If you have no fear of the dark, if you 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 book. Over and over and over and over again. Amen…
© 2005 Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman. All Rights Reserved.

Diabolo Volume 1


By Kei Kusunoki & Kaoru Ohashi (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1595322326

This powerful and engrossing urban horror tale with classical supernatural overtones features the exploits of two mysterious young men, Ren and Rai, as they attempt to help ordinary people enmeshed in the sinister coils of the supernatural.

Years previously, two little boys were supposed to have killed a young girl in the apartment building where Chiaki lives. That’s why it’s half empty and the people that do live there are all weird.

Home is not her only problem. School is awful and her parents are acting strange and her boyfriend won’t talk to her and her period is really, really late…

When she meets Ren and Rai, she discovers a whole new and unsuspected world. The boys sold their souls to the demonic Diabolo – who specialises in buying the souls of children – but like all Devil’s Bargains they were cheated, and now they use the powers they’ve been granted to thwart the fiend’s schemes.

But there’s a deadline. All the devil’s clients become insane murderous monsters on their eighteenth birthdays. The boys have less than a year before they must kill each other…

And that’s just the introductory background: The two boys’ mission to save other victims from making their mistake is simply a vehicle to tell modern horror/adventure stories in a chilling urban setting with ordinary people as the stars, and it works very well indeed.

The action is finely balanced by an oppressive atmosphere not often present in Manga, but which superbly enhances the tension, allowing the beautiful clean drawing style to enhance rather than dilute the aura of fore-doomed intensity. This is a highly recommendable treat for supernatural thrill-fiends.
© 2001 Kei Kusunoki & Kaoru Ohashi. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2004 TOKYOPOP Inc.

Forbidden Dance


By Hinako Ashihara (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59182-345-2

This is the charming, if eccentric, tale of Aya, a young girl who has seemingly lost the ability to dance after an accident at the National Ballet Competition damages her ankle.

Her ruined, psychologically-scarred, miserable life finally drastically spins around again after she witnesses the astounding Akira Hibiya dancing with the COOL ballet troupe. The boy quite turns her head and makes her want to dance once more…

Revitalised, she makes joining COOL her life’s ambition, and nothing – not even the fact that Akira thinks she is just another crazy girl-fan stalker or, more importantly, that COOL is an all-male company – is going to stop her…

Aimed at a young teen audience, Forbidden Dance is replete with the school angst and constant, overwhelming pressure to succeed that dominates this branch of manga fiction, but the energy, power and enthusiasm of Hinako Ashihara’s story-telling elevates the tale above the crush of its peers.

As Aya’s story progresses (through 4 translated volumes originally released in 2003) the ending is never a foregone conclusion and even the most jaded reader must wonder “what next?”

In a crowded and conservative market, it’s good to see quality story-telling in varied settings, and many jaded comics fans or newcomers to our weird world would probably benefit from giving this book and its sequels a chance… if they can find them.
© 2003 Hinako Ashihara. All Rights Reserved.

Girls Bravo volumes 1-3


By Mario Kaneda, translated & adapted by Asuka Yoshizu & Steve Bunche (TokyoPop)
ISBNs: 978-1-59816-040-6, 978-1-59816-041-3 & 978-1-59816-042-0

Here’s another large, strange slice of manga magic that took the world by storm when it inevitably transferred to the anime screen, and another of those uncomfortably inappropriate teen-sex comedies that so delight the Japanese and generally bewilder we less socially ossified westerners.

Aimed at older teens, this type of tale fully acknowledges and draws seemingly endless amusement from the fact that boys and girls of a certain age are hormone-crazed muskrats desperate to catch furtive snatches of each other’s proscribed bits, and only conscience and social pressure keeps them from being even more intolerable than they are.

If only it got any easier with advanced age…

These stories first appeared in Japanese magazine Shōnen Ace from 2000 to 2005 and were eventually collected in ten volumes of frantic, frenetic slapstick, excruciating comedy-of-manners gaffes, replete with gusset glimpses, shower-scenes, fantasy fun and burgeoning young love.

‘Gārusu Burabō’ is the story of a hapless high school student named Yukinari Sasaki, a short, dim nebbish who is so put upon, teased and bullied by girls – and even his female teachers – that he has developed a condition which brings him out in hives every time anything with no Y chromosomes touches him.

His unfortunate condition is further compounded by the fact that the neighbours’ daughter Kirie, a girl he has known since childhood, and one he can at least talk to, has recently changed.

Her shy and awkward nature has developed into a crush he is utterly oblivious to, but unfortunately said crush has devolved into a series of violent assaults every time she gets flustered, and with Sasaki, she gets flustered a lot…

At some time when nobody was paying attention, she blossomed into an astonishingly well-endowed young woman – something else that embarrasses her greatly and often leads to red-faced punches and breath-curtailing kicks…

After a particularly trying day Yukinari returns home and stumbles into Kirie using his shower. He’s flustered, she’s naked and while he’s being pummelled by the blushing, panicked girl he falls into the bath… and emerges into another world and another naked girl’s bath…

But this is a completely different kind of girl. She is genuinely concerned, solicitous, even shorter than him and – most importantly – not screaming or hitting. Moreover, Miharu can touch him without setting off his allergic reaction. All she cares about is his welfare and what earth food is like.

The world of Siren is a revelation; a magical place where women outnumber men 9-1. When Miharu’s older sister Maharu spots the unattached male she makes a violent play for Yukinari, chasing him into the streets where every female in range also competes to capture the fleeing boy-toy.

Miharu rescues him and they double back to her bathroom, but the pursuers are too close and the fugitives fall into the bath – and arrive back in Yukinari’s shower. It is still occupied by the perplexed, naked and fuming Kirie.

Miharu is apparently stuck on Earth: the perfect companion for the gynophobic lad. She never attacks him, doesn’t cause hives, has magic powers and only cares about food. Unfortunately, she’s bewitchingly beautiful and as naive as a newborn hamster, so the hoi-polloi at school trail after her like dogs after biscuits, especially wealthy school stud Fukuyama.

He’s a real catch: a glorious young god of legendary manliness, but conceals a tragic secret of his own. Unknown to all, he is so male-phobic that he has an attack of hives every time a male touches him. Fukuyama is driven crazy by Miharu’s indifference to him…

Meanwhile, hopeless Yukinari is still being teased and bullied by girls of every type and regularly stumbling into situations where Kirie is undressed, volatile and trigger-primed to explode…

The first volume covers the set-up of the formulae, with lots of stories about simplistic Miharu’s desire to eat anything not nailed down, platonically care for Yukinari and her tendency to be duped into wearing revealing or fetishistic clothing by the lecherous Fukuyama.

Despite being always hungry and able to consume practically anything Miharu is a brilliant cook, unlike Kirie whose recipes are only really appreciated by terrorists looking for new bio-weapons. Yukinari increasingly has to spend his time protecting the gullible alien’s non-existent modesty…

Gradually the series takes a more supernatural turn as the unhappy ménage-a-trouble encounter an undressed ghost girl (and Fukuyama’s sister) Risa: a young sorceress convinced that beleaguered Yukinari is her predestined husband and thus willing to use all her wiles and witchcraft to make him hers. Even if it means destroying or even befriending Miharu and Kirie…

The first volume ends with a light-hearted and hottie-filled adaptation of traditional Japanese folk-tale Momotaro (the Peach Boy).

Volume 2 continues Risa’s campaign. She casts spells on Yukinari, and tries to convince Miharu that her attentions are preventing the diminutive lad from forming normal relationships or shaking his allergic phobia. Things get completely crazy when the Siren girl drinks alcohol and begins to replicate herself uncontrollably…

Yukinari still keeps getting accidental, unwelcome and concomitantly painful glimpses of undraped girls whilst growing increasingly fond of Miharu, even battling the hulking alpha male Fukuyama to protect her, but when amnesiac Koyomi appears thing get very strange indeed.

For one thing she is the only other girl able to resist the school stud’s dubious charms; she doesn’t give Yukinari contact-hives and, when she is flustered or scared, giant pits open in the floor under her…

She is in fact an agent from Siren sent to recover the missing Miharu, and when her memory returns Koyomi transports her quarry home before Yukinari’s tear-filled eyes…

Of course, the adored catalyst does return, and volume 2 concludes with another side story; a day in the life of sexy super-stud Fukuyama – or at least in his fevered, fetid mind…

Volume 3 opens with the cast being coerced by the loathsome Lothario into a game of strip Mah-Jong with the returned Konomi (on a secret mission for Miharu’s sister): Fukuyama’s latest lewd target. Sadly for him, she suffers from the same condition as he does – she too is androphobic and repelled by the touch of men…

Konomi’s mission is at last exposed and she begins searching for a perfect husband for Miharu’s strident, overbearing sister. This inevitably leads to some very uncomfortable situations, as do the girls’ communal attempts to earn some extra money, before everything goes really crazy after Kirie falls through Risa’s mirror into a world where all her friends have reversed personalities…

Sweet-natured Miharu’s attempts to buy all her friends New Year’s Gifts go painfully awry before all ends well, and her celebration of the Setsubun festival (where bad luck is symbolically removed by throwing Soya beans out of the house) also falls flat – but only because Risa summoned real evil spirits to the party…

The volume ends on a heartbreakingly beguiling tale of a little girl abandoned in the snow – a story so moving it’s worth buying all three volumes just to read this sparkling gem in perfect context…

Irrepressibly juvenile and hormone-fuelled but great fun and beautifully drawn, this is a series as likely to titillate as offend, but it’s all good clean smut really, harmless and charming and bound to delight girl watchers and anyone enduring puberty or recalling it with any degree of honesty…
© 2001, 2002 Mario Kaneda. English text © 2005, 2006 Tokyopop Inc. All rights reserved.

Tramps Like Us volume 1


By Yayoi Ogawa (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 978-1-595321-39-8

Returning to TV screens in 2017 – for the second adaptation since the manga originally debuted – this intriguing, introspective love story offers a beguiling and surprisingly tasteful exploration of modern relationships at the margins of societal norms.

Eventually wracking-up 14 collected volumes, the series originated from stand-alone story ‘Pet’ published in the June 2000 issue of Kiss Carnival. It quickly reappeared in expanded form in Kiss as ‘Kimi wa Pet’: running to 82 chapters between December 2000 and October 2005.

The serial was a global comics hit, translated into many languages and spawning a Japanese live action TV drama series airing in 2003 and a South Korean movie in 2011 plus – as previously mentioned – a new television iteration.

Sumire Iwaya is a thoroughly modern woman, with a good job, promising prospects and all her priorities properly sorted. But like so many career women – especially in Japan – the romantic side of her life is problematic.

Comfortably situated but still recovering from a messy affair with the boss’s son, she is constantly evaluating her admittedly high relationship standards. What this actually means is that most of the time now she’s tired, stressed and terribly, terribly lonely.

For no reason she can explain then, when she one day discovers a beautiful young man inhabiting a dumpster, Sumire grudgingly gives him shelter in her home. The full-grown waif appears to be an utter innocent: vital, energetic and totally without guile – or manners…

Fed up with her life and with the kind of men she seems to attract, the salary woman enters into a bizarre pact with the vagrant. Naming him Momo – after a dog she had as a child – Sumire adopts him as her secret pet.

She will feed, bathe and pamper him in return for companionship, warmth and the kind of unconditional love only an animal can provide.

But what is “unconditional”? As her life proceeds, with friends, career and even a new boyfriend all piling their respective pressures on, her secret pet increasingly becomes her only haven of contentment. But Momo is not a dumb animal. He has his own life no matter how ardently he might seek to deny it….

And in this classic When Harry Met Sally dilemma the couple are being compelled by their own incessantly and increasingly inharmonious natures to reassess their relationship and thereby endanger the only emotional refuge each can retreat to…

Sharp, charming and strikingly drawn, this out-of-print saga is long-overdue for revival: a proper grown-up comics story that manages to be mature and sophisticated whilst still being decorous.
© 2000, 2004 Yayoi Ogawa. All Rights Reserved.

Manga Sutra – Futari H, Volume 1: Flirtation


By Katsu Aki (Katsuaki Nakamura) (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 978-1-4278-0536-2

I don’t think I’ve offended anybody for a while now, so with St. Valentine’s Day fast approaching I think we’re about due.

Therefore, if you are made uncomfortable, easily offended or embarrassed by the mention of graphic cartoon nudity and sexual situations, or if you have any problems at all with the oddly coy forthrightness of manga, please skip this review and move on.

Otherwise this peculiar coagulation of earnest soap opera and sexual self-help manual might be worth a moment of your attention. You might even be interested and want to see more…

Billed as “the best-selling sex guide from Japan” this initial volume – of at least 5 to my knowledge – is more accurately a sweet but explicit soap-opera love-story – albeit related in a staggeringly clinical-yet-chatty manner.

Makota and Yura are just married, but unbeknownst to each other, both still virgins. In short narrative episodes we follow their stumbling first steps to a healthy sex life, peppered with diagrams, statistics and a disturbingly jolly commentary. And lots of hilarity…

The act and any experience-improving techniques themselves are almost of secondary importance to the telling of a sweet and innocent RomCom yarn, with unsubtly-vamping co-workers, interfering know-it-all siblings and inquisitive parents all incessantly queuing up with advice and questions and inevitably making an embarrassing situation agonisingly worse…

There’s lots of nudity and oddly graphic-yet-(self)-censored copulation on show (neither male nor female primary sexual organs are ever depicted – it’s assumed you already know what they look like and besides, the Japanese consider their depiction to be in poor taste) but in no way does this resemble any Western style of “How-to-Do-It” (better) manual where the emphasis is on dispassionate, clinical education and task-oriented elucidation.

Of course, I’m just guessing about the last bit – I’ve never needed a manual or even a map in my life, no, not me, nope, Nuh-Uh…

Seriously, though, this isn’t so much an educational experience as much as a fascinating and beautifully drawn insight into the acceptable face of Japanese sexuality, and as such has lots to recommend it.

Which I do, as long as you’re old enough and promise to stop sniggering…
© 1996 KATSUAKI. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2008 TOKYOPOP Inc.