Hello to all the manga fans. As you may have noticed, CALLING MANGA ISLAND has been on hiatus for a while, as I've been trying to keep my head above water and juggling projects and personal things as well. I've been away from the Island too long, and in anticipation of getting a new personal home base (moving into an actual house), I wanted to get back into reporting from Manga Island on a regular basis again. Being away has made me sad at times, as I stare through the telescope and at my journalistic home base, so I am working on getting up to speed and even more into reporting what is going on in the world of manga. I have a couple of columns that I have to catch up on that were never sent out, so I thought I should get those out of the way first. Please forgive me for playing catch up, and expect more updates very soon with our returning to regular duties every other Thursday here on CBR.

Best wishes,

Tony Salvaggio

The train keeps a rollin', toward Manga Island, in this case it's the multimedia phenomena of "Densha Otoko," aka "Train Man." The "Train Man" story has been quite a popular story in Japan, spawning a movie, TV show, and several print versions. Three of the manga versions have been licensed in the US, giving me a rare opportunity to compare and contrast two of them. In addition to "Train Man," I've also had a chance to check out "Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man," the debut manhwa (comics from Korea) from Dark Horse

The "Train Man" centers around the possible true story of how an anime/manga otaku (a hardcore fan, with not so good connotations in Japan) stands up for a young girl being harassed on a subway and how they end up in love. The word spread through an anonymous message board in Japan and soon became part of a captivating franchise.The endearing story of a geek and his momentary act of courage, real or imagined, is a great underdog story, as it gives otakus everywhere a glimmer of hope and possibly the courage to push past their normally shy demeanor. "Train Man" is a heartwarming tale that deals with geek culture in a mostly positive light. Rooting for the underdog is easy to do in the case of the lost and lonely Train, and I felt myself wanting to add to the encouragement he gets from the chat rooms he frequents. The chat rooms themselves speak volumes about the otaku culture, who live vicariously through the Train Man's act of courage and bit of luck, much like many otaku do through reading escapist comics.

Other than art style, the biggest difference in the CMX version and the Del Rey version is the formatting. Del Rey's "Train Man" is told in a whirlwind single volume, while CMX's "Densha Otoko" plays out over three volumes. Again, I prefer the way the CMX version plays out so far. However, Del Rey's one volume affair is great for manga fans who want to see how the story plays out in one sitting, don't want to wait for future volumes, or those on a tight budget. Del Rey's version has the usual awesome cultural notes that fans have come to expect from their manga line and a little more about the "Train Man" phenomenon.

"Banya: the Explosive Delivery Man" #1

"Banya: the Explosive Delivery Man" is the debut book from Dark Horse's new line of comics from Korea, known as manhwa, and for me it fits in perfectly with their line of manga as well as the feel of their domestic books. For me it was one of those books that came in at just the right time, with plenty of dark humor, crazy action, fast-paced breezy pacing and topped off with some pretty amazing artwork.

Fans of other Dark Horse books like "Berserk" should enjoy the bloody carnage as well as the charismatic lead character, Banya. As a delivery boy for the Gaya Desert Post office, Banya's only loyalty is to deliver. "Fast, Precise, Secure" is his motto and he knows no other allegiance. Whether it's charging through a siege (part of the amazing and hilarious opening chapter), or dodging the villains and monsters of his world, Banya vows to hold to his delivery schedule with little regard for his own safety, as long as he holds his perfect delivery record. When Banya undertakes the delivery of a mysterious package from a stranger, he puts his life and the lives of his friends in danger. And yet, he still adheres to his vow to never miss a delivery.

Manhwa artist Kim Young-oh's art is excellent throughout and Dark Horse has done an excellent job with the presentation of the book. Included are the fantastic color pages full of sepia toned battle mayhem and plenty of bloody sword slashing. When detail is called for, Kim Young-oh is able to match any of the battle scenes in "Berserk." Overall, the backgrounds, creatures and characters are a match for almost any shonen manga-ka. The fast pacing and wry, sometimes deadpan humor, remind me at times of stories that I would expect to see in the pages "Heavy Metal" magazine, sans the nudity often present in European comics. The book is presented in the same left-to-right reading format and at the same size as the original publication. A touch that might appeal to comics fans who might want to read a manga-like tale, but were turned off by the right to left format. Kudos must also be give to Dark Horse, for celebrating the fact that this book is from Korea, with the "Dark Horse Manhwa" logo on the spine and the reading instructions at the back of the book, where the first page of a manga usually starts. If these are the types of stories and the level of quality that Dark Horse Manhwa has in store for readers, I will be more than happy to add this line of books to my pull list. I will definitely be picking up the future volumes of "Banya" when I am looking for fast paced action escapism.

"Densha Otoko"

Publisher: CMX

Volumes: 1 (of 3)

Rating: Teen

"Train Man"

Publisher: Del Rey

Volumes: 1 (of 1)

Rating: Teen

"Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man"

Publisher: Dark Horse

Volumes: 5 (of 5)

Rating: Teen (Violence and Gore)

Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, "PSY-COMM." Volume 1 is out right now! (Volume 2 should be out in May!). He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.

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