Manga Mondays with Kethylia 11/5

The nifty manga blogger, Kethylia, allows me to post her weely reviews every Monday here on the blog, to share with you good folks. Here is a link to her site, which she describes as "an informal brain-dumping ground for off-the-cuff book and manga reviews, news commentary, leftist political rants, half-baked pretensions of intellectualism, and lots, lots more!"


Here is a description of her rating scale.

Tezuka, Osamu. MW. Trans. Camellia Nieh. New York: Vertical, 2007.

Summary: A night of coerced and forbidden passion becomes a night of horror for Garai and the youthful Yuki when they witness the gruesome deaths of every inhabitant of a small island off the coast of Okinawa. The culprit is a deadly gas called MW (pronounced "Muu"), and the government quickly covers up the incident to protect the secret of its weapon of mass destruction. Fifteen years later, Yuki has become a seductive but heartless killer intent upon procuring MW for himself so that he can destroy all humanity, and Garai has become a Catholic priest tormented by his desperate love for Yuki-and by the terrible cost he knows he will pay for doing the right thing. In the end, though Yuki's plot is foiled (for now), he--and only he--emerges unscathed to terrorize the world another day.

Comments: Vertical does not bid competitively for its manga licenses, so you know that there must be something very much amiss when the mighty VIZ Media chooses not to publish a Shougakukan title by the late God of Manga Tezuka Osamu. To say the least. But I never imagined that it might possibly be worse than Vertical's release of the misogynistic medical epic Ode to Kirihito, which was haunted by the same disreputable cloud of VIZ Media's apparent first refusal. Clearly, I'm sorely lacking in the imagination department. This time around, not only are the women portrayed as pathetic objects to be used, abused, and/or gruesomely murdered--we have a genocidally-inclined gay man who also gets a jolt out of crossdressing, raping women, and having sex with his bloodthirsty pet dog...not to mention a Catholic priest with a pedophile past who, though he protesteth much, is essentially an accomplice to his lover's many crimes. Only the token lesbian manages both a positive portrayal and a happy (or at least unharmed) end in the arms of her (female) lover. Luckily for her, heterosexual men like lesbians. (Detect any sarcasm?) Obviously, Tezuka is slavishly catering to his Big Comic base here, and all that cutesy, retro, cartoonish artwork is just incongruous icing on the cake. I'm sorry, but no base that necessitates the deployment of such an array of phobias and pernicious stereotypes about women and gay men deserves to be catered to under any circumstances whatsoever!

Of course, the centerpiece of MW is the near-hysterical criticism of Japan's unequal diplomatic relationship with the United States "Nation X" and the domestic political corruption that relationship engenders. Tezuka may have been an avowed pacifist, but the way in which he decries American "interventionist" military forays in one breath and glosses over Japan's own militarism (past and present) in the next rings rather hollow to me (despite how legitimately unsexy US foreign policy was then and is now). After all, Japan has the most expensively equipped "non-military" in the world; the US ain't the only one flying choppers with Big Guns! As such, I suppose Yuki might be taken as a dark metaphor for post-war Japan itself--submissive on the surface but fundamentally two-faced, perverted...and secretly nurturing unplumbed depths of rancor. Why am I suddenly reminded of Tokyo Babylon's Seishiro? Yes, indeedy, we appear to have an early example of the ruthless, bisexual, and, most importantly, Japanese villain archetype, now ubiquitous in manga for all audiences, on our hands.

Purely from a production standpoint, the American hardcover edition is lovely, among the best I've seen manga-wise from from this publisher thus far. (It damn well better be at $24.95!!) The paper quality is respectable, the translation flows naturally, and the pages, all 582 of them, are crisp and seamlessly flipped (according to the late mangaka's expressed preference). But as usual, graphic designer Chip Kidd gives the book, like all of Vertical's titles, a distinctive look, and as usual, I'm not liking it at all. Kidd goes way overboard, putting transgressive sex scenes on the spine and both endpapers. In any case, I would much prefer to see some variation of the original Japanese cover art and design on Vertical's releases. Mainstream manga series almost invariably boast a piece of color art or two, and these, depressingly, never seem to get included in Vertical manga. If I'm paying top dollar, I'd like to have those, too, dammit! Less bling and higher quality licenses might be nice, as well.

Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition; first published in Japan by Shougakukan from 1976 to 1978

Rating: 2.5/10 - Shock value? In spades. Quality? Not a crumb to be found. Don't waste your time--or your money.

Ueda, Miwa. Peach Girl: Sae's Story. Vol. 1. Trans. Ray Yoshimoto and Jodi Bryson. Los Angeles: TOKYOPOP, 2006.

Summary: Originally titled Ura Peach Girl. Sae has been held back a year in high school, but that's not stopping her from hanging out at the university with Momo and Kiley. Now a boy from her past who remembers her when she was shy and weak named Kanji is determined to win her over again. Will lying in order to become a model again solve her problems and get rid of Kanji?

Comments: Peach Girl is one of those super-fun series that I never in a million years would have ever picked up in Japanese on my own. As such, the publisher formerly known as Mixx Entertainment takes full credit (or blame!) for my sporadic exposure to the series since it was first released in the US in Smile. So many years (Nearly a decade... *self-conscious gasp* I feel old...) have passed since then, however, that I don't remember many of the manga's finer plot points; I don't even remember, in fact, if I ever actually read it to completion! (Premature senility. I just know it.)

It was with a certain amount of trepidation, therefore, that I picked up this sequel starring Sae, the narcissistic antagonist of the first series (and, all things considered, the best thing it had going for it). I am delighted to report that I was not disappointed. Ueda has not, at least at the starting line, lost her edge, and she mixes comedy and (melo)drama with a veteran mangaka's effortless finesse. Her artwork has gotten better over the years--for example, the action scenes, such as they are, are remarkably good for a romantic shoujo title. I was half irritated, half grateful that she recapped the original Peach Girl plot at the end of the book; even though I couldn't remember it, it wasn't really necessary to know any of it in order to enjoy this new story. Worth continuing for now. We'll see how quickly I tire.

Notes: paperback, 1st American edition; first published in Japan by Kodansha in 2005

Rating: 6/10 - A fun, well-rounded story that plays off of that eternally popular manga trope: Teenaged Insecurity.

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