Art

Solanin by Inio Asano

Date of Publication: 2006, Viz Media

Number of Pages: 224

Synopsis (from back cover): Meiko Inoue is a recent college grad working as an office lady in a job she hates. Her boyfriend Naruo is permanently crashing at her apartment because his job as a freelance illustrator doesn’t pay enough for rent. And her parents in the country keep sending her boxes of veggies that just rot in her fridge. Straddling the line between her years as a student and the rest of her life, Meiko struggles with the feeling that she’s just not cut out to be a part of the real world.

Review: In a way, this is the manga version of Reality Bites. A group of misfit college graduates are struggling to find their place in the world of adults. They wish for independence and success, while at the same time wishing for the familiar security of childhood. This is a story that transcends culture and geography. One could find the same group of kids in any city, town, or hamlet in any part of the world. I definitely found myself identifying with each of the characters, as they found themselves questioning their direction in life. I, too, have felt that same detachment from the “real world”, as if I just don’t belong with the rest of society. But I’m convinced that even a reader who doesn’t feel that kind of societal alienation will enjoy this story.

Inio Asano does a beautiful job of developing her characters, combining her graceful artwork with her soulful words. Besides Meiko, the disillusioned office worker longing for something she can’t yet define, we have her boyfriend, an underemployed freelance artist/wannabe rock star, and his band mates: the drummer who obediently works in his family’s store, and the bassist is lingering on in his seventh year of college, refusing to grow up. They are all searching for happiness in a world that doesn’t seem made for them. And when life becomes tragically real for them, they realize that it is their friendships that make their lives meaningful.

Rating: 10/10

MW by Osamu Tezuka

Date of Publication: Serialized 1976-1978 Biggu Komikku, Shogakkan (my edition: 2010, Vertical, Inc.)

Number of Pages: 582

Synopsis (from Amazon.com): During a boyhood excursion to one of the southern archipelagos near Okinawa, Yuki barely survived exposure to a poison gas stored at a foreign military facility. The leakage annihilated all of the island’s inhabitants but was promptly covered up by the authorities, leaving Yuki as an unacknowledged witness–one whose sense of right and wrong, however, the potent nerve agent managed to obliterate.

Now, fifteen years later, Yuki is a social climber of Balzacian proportions, infiltrating the worlds of finance and politics by day while brutally murdering children and women by night–perversely using his Kabuki-honed skills as a female impersonator to pass himself off as the women he’s killed. His drive, however, will not be satiated with a promotion here and a rape there. Michio Yuki has a far more ominous objective: obtaining MW, the ultimate weapon that spared his life but robbed him of all conscience.

There are only two men with any hope of stopping him: one, a brilliant public prosecutor who struggles to build a case against the psychopath; the other, a tormented Catholic priest, Iwao Garai, who shares Yuki’s past–and frequently his bed.

Review: Osamu Tezuka is often referred to as “the godfather of manga”, and his prolific career lasted decades and includes some very familiar titles, such as Astro Boy, Metropolis, and Black Jack. For the most part, his stories feature friendly and somewhat goofy characters, but MW is very different. The story is dark and disturbing, with no real hero to be found. But Tezuka manages to make even the psychotic and sadistic Yuki seem tragic and wronged, as if none of his crimes are his fault but are instead the result of events outside his control. At one point, I even found myself rooting for Yuki, as he struggled to find out who was responsible for covering up the MW leak.

Tezuka weaves many themes through his story and tackles difficult subjects: the involvement of the United States in Japan, the acceptability of homosexuality, and the pressures of the business world. For those unfamiliar with manga, MW is a great place to start as it tells a compelling story through Tezuka’s amazing artwork, deep character development, and even a delightful yet sinister twist at the end. Overall, it’s a great read!

Rating: 10/10

Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics by Paul Gravett

Date of Publication: 2004, Collins Design

Number of Pages: 176

Description (from back cover): Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics presents an accessible, entertaining, and highly illustrated introduction to the development and diversity of Japanese comics from 1945 to the present. Featuring striking graphics and extracts from a wide range of manga, the book covers such themes as the specific attributes of manga in contrast to American and European comics; the life and career of Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and the originator of story manga; boys’ comics from the Sixties to the present; the genres and genders of girls’ and women’s comics; the darker, more realistic themes of gekiga – violent samurais, disturbing horror, and apocalyptic science fiction; issues of censorship and protest; and manga’s role as a major Japanese export and global influence.

Review: As a first introduction to manga as art and product, this book is fantastic. I started reading having only been exposed to a few manga titles and knowing almost nothing about manga in general, besides the stereotypes that exist in the American imagination. The author, Paul Gravett, dispels all of the popular misconceptions about manga and the Japanese people’s relationship with it and provides a concise history of the medium, from its roots in Tokugawa-era prints to the revolution of artists like Osamu Tezuka, and finally to the modern adaptations of many manga into films and television series.

Gravett’s writing is easy to follow, and he seems to be extremely thorough in his research. He includes chapters on underground manga, erotic and pornographic manga, as well as the more well-known boys’ (shonen) and girls’ (shojo) manga that Americans are so familiar with. Since the book is large in size, the pages and pages of manga excerpts are easy to read and provide excellent examples of pretty much every genre of manga that exist.

I recommend this book to anyone who is just beginning to venture into manga, or anyone interested in the modern Japanese psyche. Gravett’s history of manga is also a study of modern Japanese people and the way they look at the world around them.

Rating: 10/10