Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: Chichi no Koyomi

One blogpost is not enough to pay homage to the recently deceased Jirō Taniguchi, so here’s another one.

Another noteworthy but largely overlooked manga by Taniguchi is Chichi no Koyomi (My Father’s Journal), of which there is no English translation either. The reason for its negligence in the Western world is probably a different one, though: it might be too similar to Taniguchi’s magnum opus A Distant Neighborhood – which was originally published four years *after* Chichi no Koyomi. Reading these two manga in the ‘wrong’ order makes Chichi no Koyomi feel like a compressed, less daring (no supernatural time travel) and more episodic (thus somewhat haphazard) rip-off of A Distant Neighborhood, when in fact the latter was more of a logical continuation or evolution out of the former.

Die Sicht der Dinge (父の暦 / Chichi no Koyomi)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Jirō Taniguchi
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Shōgakukan)
Year: 2008 (original run 1994)
Pages: 278
Price: € 16,90
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/die-sicht-der-dinge/20582 (German)
ISBN: 978-3-551-77731-7

Yōichi Yamashita (i.e. not Taniguchi himself but an autobiographically influenced fictitious character) is a middle-aged salaryman who lives in Tokyo with his wife. When his father dies, he needs to return to his native Tottori for the funeral, for the first time in 15 years. There he meets his uncle, his sister and other characters with whom he reminisces about his father’s life, Yōichi’s own childhood and how the rift between the two came to be.

The events in the past are shown as flashback sequences, although they take up more space than the events in the present. I wouldn’t call the present-day sequences a framing narrative, though, because several chapters begin in the past, then switch to the present, before they switch back to the past again, so that the past frames the present. There is some structural variation and jumping back and forth in time. The most strikingly structured episode is the one in which seven-year-old Yōichi runs away from home to his uncle in search of his mother: adult Yōichi begins to tell this episode on pp. 19-25, but doesn’t pick it up again until 130 pages later.

Another interesting device, albeit employed only tentatively, is an unreliable narrator: two events from Yōichi’s childhood are first shown as he remembers them, but later he learns from his relatives how he actually misremembered them. This device makes the story more dynamic; just as in A Distant Neighborhood, the past isn’t fixed but changeable. However, there is also an emphasis on a historic event in Chichi no Koyomi, the Great Fire of Tottori in 1952, which makes the past more site- and time-specific in this manga than in A Distant Neighborhood.

Artistically, Chichi no Koyomi is Taniguchi at the top of his game. Particularly the characters and their facial expressions are spot-on, which is no small feat given the number of characters, most of which appear multiple times at different ages.

However, it should be noted that the German publisher Carlsen didn’t do a particularly good job at flipping the manga so that it now reads left-to-right in this German edition: the speech bubbles and captions are often arranged diagonally in the panel, in which case the reading order is bottom(!)-left to top-right, which is awfully confusing. Furthermore, some panels are mirrored and some are not, resulting in the old problems of right-handed characters becoming left-handed and the like.

That being said, Chichi no Koyomi is a classic Taniguchi manga that one shouldn’t miss. Together with The Walking Man and A Distant Neighborhood, this manga embodies the essence of Taniguchi’s work as a mangaka.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○


Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: Trouble Is My Business

Earlier this month, Jirō Taniguchi died of an undisclosed illness at the age of only 69. During a career that spanned almost five decades, he authored or co-authored a huge number of manga. However, outside of Japan, only a few of them have earned the recognition they deserve.

One of these oft-overlooked titles is Trouble Is My Business, written by Natsuo Sekikawa. Originally published from 1979–80 (not counting the sequel series), it is Taniguchi’s earliest work available in German. There are also French and Italian editions, but no English one yet as far as I know.

panel from Trouble Is My Business by Natsuo Sekikawa and Jiro TaniguchiTrouble Is My Business (事件屋稼業 / Jikenya Kagyō)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Natsuo Sekikawa (writer), Jirō Taniguchi (artist)
Publisher: Schreiber & Leser (originally Futabasha)
Year: 2014 (original run 1979–1980)
Pages: 294
Price: € 16,95
Website: http://www.schreiberundleser.de/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=33 (German)
ISBN: 978-3-943808-54-4

Unlike in many of Taniguchi’s better-known manga, there is little to no autobiographical influence in Trouble Is My Business, except that the protagonist, Fukamachi, is of the same age as Sekikawa and Taniguchi, and lives in Tokyo too. Instead of some contemplative family story, this is a collection of almost straightforward ‘hardboiled’ detective cases which are only loosely connected through the character of Fukamachi and his trouble with his ex-wife and daughter.

Rather than the crime cases and their resolution, the real draw here is the subtle humour which is usually based on the hapless, amateurish, down-and-out, small-time detective protagonist and his interaction with other quirky characters. But let’s focus on Taniguchi’s contribution, the artwork. Because already back then, in his early thirties, he had achieved mastery in draughtsmanship.

That is not to say his style didn’t evolve after Trouble Is My Business. The most noticeable difference to his later works is that he didn’t use screen tone as extensively back then, usually relying on parallel hatching to indicate volume and shadows. This results in an overall darker tonality, which is fitting for the ‘noir-ish’ story. My guess is that the reason for this artistic evolution is rather mundane: perhaps Taniguchi wasn’t yet successful enough to be able to hire an assistant who could take over the time-consuming task of applying the screen tones.

Another difference is the frequent display of his skill at depicting technical objects such as vehicles, watercrafts, or firearms, whereas his (too overtly photo-referenced) cityscapes aren’t as impressive as in his later manga. Something Taniguchi excelled at, back then at least as much as in the 90s, is the portrayal of a vast range of different characters. Each of them has a realistic but distinct look (with the sole exception of the barkeeper at Los Lindos, who looks indistinguishable from Fukamachi).

Recommended for fans of the genre, or anyone who wants to discover a different side of Taniguchi.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○


The best manga of 2016? Review of A Silent Voice and Yona

In this second part of a two-part blog post (read part 1 here) I’ll review two more manga from 2016, the widely acclaimed A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima and the ‘dark horse’ Yona of the Dawn by Mizuho Kusanagi.

A Silent Voice (聲の形 / Koe no katachi) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Yoshitoki Ōima
Publisher: Egmont (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2013)
Number of volumes: 4 so far (completed with vol. 7 in Japan)
Pages: 190
Price: € 7
Website: http://www.egmont-manga.de/buch-buchreihe/a-silent-voice/
ISBN: 978-3-7704-8996-1

This is it. This must be the best manga of 2016. While I can’t claim to have read all manga from last year, it’s inconceivable that another manga could be as good as A Silent Voice.

As with Orange, the synopsis didn’t sound that exciting though, which is usually given as something along the lines of ‘deaf girl is bullied by her new classmate but then they get to know each other better’. However, apart from the first 8 pages of a framing narrative, the girl (Nishimiya) doesn’t even appear until page 50. This gives us a lot of space to get acquainted with the compelling character of Shōya, a sixth-grader who (similarly to e.g. Bart Simpson) does evil things without really being evil. Everything he does is motivated by his desire to ‘defeat boredom’ by all means. It’s impossible not to like him when he exclaims, “I declare this day a triumph over boredom!”, and it’s understandable how he immediately sees his new classmate Nishimiya as a remedy for boredom and desperately tries to make use of her to this end.

They way Ōima crafts her story is simple but couldn’t be more effective. By contrasting Nishimiya’s ultimate kindness with Shōya’s ever-increasing meanness while at the same time evoking the reader’s sympathy with Shōya, we experience their conflict as a gut-wrenching lose–lose situation. It can’t get more emotionalising than this. And even though the manga goes on for 6 more volumes, it’s not even all that important whether Nishimiya will ever be able to forgive Shōya – the story as told in vol. 1 is already perfect in itself.

While the script would have been strong enough to work well even if it had been drawn by a lesser artist, the opposite is also true: Ōima could probably illustrate the proverbial phone book and it would still look good. The art of A Silent Voice is absolutely on par with the writing. Of particular ingenuity is the device of repeating panel compositions of certain scenes (Shōya and his mates hanging out in his room, Shōya getting told off by his teacher, Shōya talking at Nishimiya) – not copy-and-pasting but re-drawing them with myriad background details (the amount of which is incredible in many panels anyway) changed.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ●


Yona of the Dawn (暁のヨナ / Akatsuki no Yona) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Mizuho Kusanagi
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Hakusensha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2009)
Number of volumes: 3 so far (22 in Japan)
Pages: 190
Price: € 5
Website: http://www.tokyopop.de/manga/tokyopop-manga/shojo/yona-prinzessin-der-morgendaemmerung/
ISBN: 978-3-8420-3143-2

With vol. 1 released in both Germany and the US and vol. 20-22 in Japan last year, plus a popular anime adaptation the year before, I would have thought Yona to be the most talked-about manga of 2016. Instead, I found it on only one best-of-2016 list. Does that mean it’s not actually that good?

Yona is marketed as a fantasy story for the shōjo demographic, which is an interesting niche – although ‘fantasy’ might be somewhat misleading, as there are no supernatural elements (at least in vol. 1), so it’s more of an alternate history story in a vaguely medieval East Asian setting. This genre mix means that the manga has to deliver not only on drama and romance but also on ‘swordplay’. While the drama/romance part works out fine (could there be anything more dramatic than Yona’s father getting killed by the man she is in love with?), the few action scenes seem stiff, especially when compared to manga by masters who appear to feel more at home in the ‘samurai’ genre such as Sanpei Shirato, Gōseki Kojima, or Hiroaki Samura.

Another problem of this volume is its slow pace: at the end, Yona flees from her father’s murderer and embarks on a journey that will surely end in another dramatic confrontation with said killer. It’s palpable that this is the beginning of what will eventually become an epic and probably very exciting and good story – but in vol. 1, we’re simply not there yet.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○


To sum up, in my humble opinion, A Silent Voice is the best manga of the year 2016. However, there are several other strong ongoing series with which I have yet to catch up to their 2016 volumes, so maybe there’s going to be a third review post later this year.


The best manga of 2016? Review of Orange and Knights of Sidonia

Are the manga that almost everyone put on their best-comics-of-2016 lists really so awesome? (Spoiler: yes, they are.) Or was the actually best manga a completely different one that was overlooked by most? In this little two-part blog post [EDIT: read part 2 here] I’ll review two titles from each of those categories.

Orange (orange) vol. 1panel from Orange #1 by Ichigo Takano
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Ichigo Takano
Publisher: Carlsen Manga (originally Shūeisha and Futabasha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2012)
Number of volumes: 3 so far (completed with vol. 5 in Japan)
Pages: ~190 (+ 30 pages backup story)
Price: € 8
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/serie/orange/72643
ISBN: 978-3-551-71324-7

Orange is the highest-ranked manga in the aggregate ranking of 2016 year-end lists, so it certainly is the most popular among critics. But is it also the best? If you only go by its synopsis, you wouldn’t think so: 16-year old Naho mysteriously starts receiving letters from the future, written by herself at age 26. The letters are mainly concerned with Naho’s new classmate Kakeru, who will die next year, and adult Naho wants teenage Naho to prevent this.

Magically travelling back to one’s teenage days is not a particularly original premise for a manga – cf. the recent ReLIFE by Yayoisō and 31 I Dream by Arina Tanemura, and of course Jirō Taniguchi’s 1990s masterpiece, A Distant Neighborhood. The new spin in Orange is that 26-year old Naho doesn’t travel back in time; she only sends letters but can’t control what her 16-year old self does, and 16-year old Naho doesn’t know anything about her future except for what she reads in the letters.

This makes for an ideal starting point for the compelling exploration of a theme that was also central to Taniguchi: regret. One could even argue this works better in Orange, because although 16-year old Naho knows what she is supposed to do (according to the advice in the letters), she often can’t bring herself to do it, or decides against it, or simply misses the opportunity. The letters don’t change who she is; they don’t turn her into another, more courageous, person.

Add to that some gorgeous artwork (masterly use of screen tones!) and you get an almost perfect manga. Almost, but not quite: what took me by surprise was that the story is partially set in the time of adult Naho, and – not unlike the much-reviled epilogue to the final Harry Potter novel – I don’t think this works all that well. While the manga demographic terms of shōjo and josei are often problematic, this distinction might be at the core of the problem here: a reader can identify with either Naho the wife and mother or Naho the high schooler, but probably not both.

Another potentially problematic element is the unlikely plot device of sending letters back in time in an otherwise realistic setting, which as of vol. 1 hasn’t been explained yet. An unconvincing explanation at the end can still ruin a series that had been good up to this point (I’m looking at you, Nobuaki Kanazawa), so we’ll have to wait and see how this is handled in the four remaining volumes of Orange.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○

Knights of Sidonia (シドニアの騎士 / Shidonia no kishi) vol. 14
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Tsutomu Nihei
Publisher: Egmont (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2017 (originally 2015)
Number of volumes: 14 so far (completed with vol. 15 in Japan)
Pages: ~170
Price: € 7.50
Website: http://www.egmont-manga.de/buch-buchreihe/knights-of-sidonia/
ISBN: 9783-7704-9240-4

Ostensibly, this penultimate volume of Knights of Sidonia has little to do with 2016: the original Japanese tankōbon was published in 2015 already and this German translation only this year. However, the 15th and final volume, which is yet to be published in German, came out in the US last year, so I would have thought the conclusion of the series would make a bigger impact on the Western manga scene.

Instead it seems to have gone by unnoticed – it wasn’t on any of the best manga/comics of 2016 lists -, which is a shame because of the historic significance in the field of science-fiction manga that this series has already earned itself due to its scale (surpassing Tsutomu Nihei’s earlier magnum opus, Blame!, by 5 volumes), its ambitious genre-bending, and its modernisation of the venerable mecha genre.

I’ve sung the praises of the series before, but how does a a single volume hold up when judged individually? In the case of vol. 14, it’s an above-average volume because many exciting things happen in it: there’s an alien infiltrator aboard the mothership Sidonia, Mrs Hiyama the talking bear makes several appearances, we get to know the enigmatic captain Kobayashi better, we even learn something about protagonist Tanikaze’s origin, Tanikaze gets a new mecha model, etc.

That being said, Knights of Sidonia might be a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – or rather, being precisely the sum of its parts, with each new volume adding to the enjoyment of reading, rather than merely replicating it. For each awesome scene, there’s a sequence where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on (particularly the space fights), or an unlikely twist that’s only there for shock value. But put together, there’s a lot of awesomeness over the course of this series.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○


Manga reviews, Halloween 2016 edition: Shi Ki, Detective Ritual, Parasyte

Continuing the ‘tradition’ from last year, here are some more reviews of relatively recent creepy manga:

Shi Ki (屍鬼 / shiki)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Fuyumi Ono (original story), Ryū Fujisaki (manga adaptation)
Publisher: Egmont (originally Shūeisha)
Years: 2013-2015 (original run 2007-2011)
Number of volumes: 11
Volumes reviewed: 1-4

Pages per volume: ~190
Price per volume: € 7.50
Website: http://www.egmont-manga.de/buch-buchreihe/shi-ki/ (German publisher), https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=15089 (MangaUpdates)
ISBN: 978-3770481163

In a remote Japanese village, a mysterious epidemic breaks out. One by one, several villagers become anaemic and then die. The local doctor, Ozaki, resolves to find out the cause of the supposed disease.

What starts promisingly as a suspenseful medical thriller soon (in vol. 3 at the latest) turns into a generic vampire story if there ever was one. It turns out that the family who recently moved into a castle-like mansion near the village are vampires who suck the blood of the villagers and turn them into vampires too. Part of vol. 4 is even told from a villager-turned-vampire’s perspective and leaves no doubt about what they are.

That being said, this manga has some things going for it: on the one hand, it manages to keep up some of the suspense even after the vampires have been clearly established as the cause of the deaths. Plus, the art style is truly distinctive – characters are elongated and twisted, faces become fine-lined caricatures, stark contrasts are employed and inverted again. In some instances Fujisaki relies too much on photo-referencing though, resulting in overly flat compositions.

In any case I don’t think I’ll read the remaining 7 volumes anytime soon.

Scariest moment in vol. 4: the little vampire girl with the puppet.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○

Detective Ritual (探偵儀式 / tantei gishiki)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Ryūsui Seiryōin (writer), Eiji Ōtsuka (storyboard), Chizu Hashii (artist)
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Kadokawa Shoten)
Years: 2011-2012 (original run 2004-2009)
Number of volumes: 6
Volumes reviewed: 1-3

Pages per volume: ~170
Price per volume: € 6.50
Website: https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=15089 (MangaUpdates)
ISBN: 978-3-8420-0134-3

Detective Ritual is more of a mystery than a horror manga, but it’s sufficiently creepy to be included in this Halloween-themed review post. Set in the near future or an alternate present, the story is about two rivaling detective organisations aiding the police in murder investigations, one government-sponsored and the other a group of precocious teenagers. The former, however, becomes the target of mass murder themselves…

The artwork is competent but unremarkable (except for the eccentric character designs) – the biggest draw of this manga is its irreverent attitude towards the detective genre: time and again, the initial, overly convoluted explanations that the detectives offer as solutions to the murder cases turn out to be wrong. There’s also a nice metafictional sub(?)-plot about a former detective who has become a writer of mystery novels.

This is certainly a manga that stands out by virtue of its weirdness, but it’s hard to really like it.

Scariest moment: the first of the eponymous ‘detective rituals’, a gruesome mass decapitation which is re-visited several times.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○

Parasyte – Kiseijuu (寄生獣 / kiseijū)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Hitoshi Iwaaki
Publisher: Panini Manga (originally Kōdansha)
Years: 2016- (original run 1988-1995)
Number of volumes: 10
Volumes reviewed: 1

Pages per volume: 278
Price per volume: € 8.99
Website: http://www.paninishop.de/parasyte (German)
ISBN: 978-3-95798-893-5

Parasyte is a horror manga classic, but its publication in German began only this year, probably in order to exploit a renewed interest in the property that has been sparked by the recent anime adaptation.

In the beginning of this story, worm-like space aliens fall on earth and crawl inside the heads of sleeping, unsuspecting people to take over their bodies. While the infested humans still look like before, the aliens are able to transform their heads into claws and fangs with which they prey and feast on other humans. When one of the aliens tries to take over teenaged Shinichi’s body, though, the infestation goes wrong: instead of settling in Shinichi’s brain, the alien is only able to take over his right arm. From now on, Shinichi and the intelligent, talking alien in his arm have to learn to get along, and ultimately work together to fight the other, less friendly aliens.

Despite all the gore and horror there’s also a lot of humour in this manga, and in addition to that Iwaaki even manages to insert some environmentalist messages. The artwork has a bit of an 80s feel to it, but some of the transformation sequences are downright trippy.

Scariest moment: that famous scene in chapter 1 where an alien-infested man’s head splits open, turns into a huge mouth and bites a woman’s head off.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○


Artifacts from Japan, part 4: Miyajima Misen Story manga

Miyajima Misen Story #3 coverThis 14,6 × 21 cm, 15-page manga leaflet is available for free at the ropeway station on Miyajima island. It’s the third part of a four-part story, but from what I gather, the manga is about a girl named Aki who visits several sights on Miyajima and runs into supernatural beings. Time travel might also play a role – the Japanese title on the cover says, 弥山へ。。。時の旅人, “time traveller to Misen” (Mt. Misen is the mountain on Miyajima to which the ropeway goes).

double page from Miyajima Misen Story #3Compared to regular, professional manga, the artwork might be a bit amateurish, but it’s still significantly better than what you would expect from what is essentially an advertisement comic issued by the Miyajima Ropeway company and created by locals from Hiroshima (writer: Yatarō Ichimonji, artist: Hitomi).

The four manga chapters are also available from the Miyajima Ropeway website as PDF files (Japanese only): part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4


Artifacts from Japan, part 3: Barefoot Gen wheat

barefoot gen grainWhen I bought this item at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I had no idea what it actually was. Well, obviously it’s two ears of wheat sellotaped to a booklet with はだしのゲン / Barefoot Gen on the front. On the back there’s the first page of Keiji Nakazawa’s manga on which Gen and his father talk about growing crops, so the connection between wheat and Gen is made clear even to those who haven’t read the manga.

Inside there’s a fold-out leaflet with instructions on how to plant the wheat and raise it, as well as some information on Nakazawa, Gen and the atomic bombing. Enclosed there is also an envelope which can be used to send a message to be entered into the ‘Hiroshima Heart Database’  (http://ichinen-hokki.sakura.ne.jp/heartdatabase/, Japanese). The idea seems to be that one should grow wheat as a symbol of peace. At least some of the database entries reflect this (“As the wheat continues to grow, so will the awareness of peace” etc.).

Barefoot Gen wheat leaflet