Say It With Manga 1/10/2013

This week's Say It With Manga is focused on comics originally targeted at girls and women.  The English-language manga market is saturated with manga set in high school that focuses on romance between students.  But there's plenty of other types of series out there.  Of the three in this column, two are sci-fi/horror hybrids, and the third is a romance manga set in a high school, but it's the best one there is.

SCI-FI: Jyu-Oh-Sei - Natsumi Itsuki (3 volumes)

The title translates to Planet of the Beast King, which is the name of the prison planet to which the main character, Thor, is banished as a 10-year-old.  The planet conditions itself are very hostile, and the planet consumes prisoners in a number of ways, including acid pits, carnivorous plants, and good old-fashioned starvation or dehydration.  But there's also a strict and cut-throat hierarchy among the criminals on the planet, and the one who can conquer all the different factions is said to be the Beast King, and is sent back to civilization.  Jyu-Oh-Sei is the story of, of course, Thor climbing to the top of this hierarchy and claiming his politically-charged reward.  Jyu-Oh-Sei is an interesting mix of genres, and Itsuki makes everything fascinating, from the man-eating planet itself and the social hierarchy among the criminals, to the politics of the system that put all of the characters there.  It's also a story of Thor growing up and turning from a pampered upper class child to a hardened warrior.  It's a short series, but dense and complex, and worth a read.


ROMANCE: Paradise Kiss - Ai Yazawa (5 volumes)

Yukari feels a bit out of place in her very brainy, very exclusive high school.  She worked very hard to be admitted, but it turns out she stretched too much, and has trouble keeping up with her classes and fitting in.  One day, she runs into George, a fashion design student from the infamous Yazawa academy.  He tricks her into coming to meet the rest of his design group (the titular Paradise Kiss), and they beg, borrow, and plead with her to become the model for the big school fashion show in the spring.  While Yukari initially resists, she finds the group irresistible, and their basement design headquarters becomes a safe haven in her stressful and increasingly topsy-turvy life.  She of course becomes ensnared by George in a relationship that is good for neither of them, and Yazawa does a good job of portraying the very human qualities of not only Yukari and George, but the other members of Paradise Kiss as well.  Yazawa's drawing style is also well-suited to this series, and the hip fashions and quirky personalities come to life under her pen.  Her longer series, Nana, is better, but Paradise Kiss is almost like Nana condensed into five volumes.  The drama is ridiculous, but it is also addictive.

ACTION: X - CLAMP (18+ volumes)

Arguably the best series produced by manga super-group CLAMP, X is an ultra-violent apocalypse story where the main character, Kamui, returns to Tokyo on the advice of his dying mother, only to be thrown in the middle of a fight between two different factions.  The Dragons of Heaven believe that humanity should be spared at the expense of all of Earth's natural resources running dry, while the Dragons of Earth believe humanity should be eradicated in order to save the Earth.  Both believe that Kamui is the one that can tip the balance of power in their favor.  Kamui only wants them to leave him and his childhood friends alone.  Most of the manga involves vague and prophetic conversations that end in extremely bloody psychic battles smattered with a generous helping of visions of the future that are full of shattering glass, clock gears, and floating petals and cherry blossoms.  It has CLAMP's absolute best art, and CLAMP is known for their gorgeous art.  Almost every page has a reason to linger and look longer.  The downside is that there is a staggering number of characters, and keeping them straight can be a challenge not worth meeting.  The other downside is that CLAMP was forced to stop writing it almost ten years ago due to the violent ending they had planned, and the series has yet to resume.  Not having an ending to your apocalypse manga is a bit of an anti-climax.  X is also one of the longest-lived manga series in English.  While new material hasn't appeared in a number of years, it was first published here in 1996, and has been serialized in two different magazines, its own comic series, and three different graphic novel editions.

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