Friday, June 29, 2007

Lotsa manga

Okay, it's time to get caught up on manga volumes that I've read recently:

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, volume 2 Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

This is a pretty crazy series, following the exploits of a group of "Buddhist university students" with varied supernatural abilities who use said abilities to locate dead bodies and carry out their last wishes (and get paid for it somehow). For those who aren't familiar with the series, those abilities are: talking to the dead, being able to locate bodies with a dowsing pendulum, speaking with a sock puppet that may or may not be an alien, embalming, and organizational skills (those last two aren't especially supernatural). While the first volume of the series was a collection of short stories, this volume is one big story, involving the horrible past of the team's leader, Japan's justice/capital punishment system, and a rival company that seems to be up to no good. There's also a young girl who has the ability to bring dead things back to life, although the apparent side effect is that they tend to go murderously insane; there's this freaky zombified cat, for example:

We also get plenty of nudity, of both male and female varieties, but as is par for the course for this series, the flesh on display is that of corpses. Yuck. There are some interesting moral questions raised, especially the nature of vengeance. It reminded me of the climax of the movie Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. And there appears to be some criticism of Japan's legal system, with one character saying that murderers are taken care of better than the families of the victims. Of course, this all leads to a gory showdown:

So it's fun for all, no matter your politics. I'm enjoying the series, so I'll pick up the next volume sometime (I almost bought it the other day, until I realized I was spending way too much already). I would prefer several shorter stories rather than one long story, but I'll take what I can get.

Monster, volume 1
By Naoki Urasawa

Naoki Urasawa is a creator (or "manga-ka") that has a really good reputation despite not having much material released in the United States. I've read a little bit of his work in a scanlated format, so I know he's pretty darn good and plan to read any of his works that get published here. So, I've been meaning to pick up this series ever since it started, but never got around to it until now. I'm glad I've started though, because this volume is quite good (although I expect future volumes will be even better). The series follows the virtuous Dr. Tenma, a Japanese expatriate living in Germany. He's an amazing surgeon, but he's gotten embroiled in hospital politics, having been engaged to the director's daughter and regularly ordered to ignore poorer and less important patients in favor of the likes of celebrities or politicians. It's kind of amusing to see the moustache-twirling antics of all the eeevil types who say things like this:

I dunno, maybe that doesn't sound as ridiculous in a country that doesn't have the opposite statement in their core philosophy (not that I'm making any claims of national superiority or anything; it's just that we hear the phrase "All men are created equal" so often that to hear somebody baldly state the opposite seems ridiculous). Anyway, the politics get to Dr. Tenma, and he disobeys orders and chooses to operate on a young boy instead of the mayor, leading to his demotion. Sitting by the unconscious boy's bed, he makes this speech:

Uh oh, I think that'll have some consequences:

Yikes, that's a creepy look. Sure enough, we jump forward nine years, and find that there's a serial killer on the loose. I don't mean to give away any secrets here, but the killer turns out to be (wait for it) the boy Dr. Tenma saved! Bum bum bum!!! (I didn't feel the need for a spoiler warning there because it's kind of the premise of the series, isn't it?) And it appears we're going to spend 17 more volumes watching Tenma try to catch the titular "monster" he inadvertently created! Yay!

I may sound like I'm making fun of the series here, but it's actually quite dramatic, playing out with excellent timing. I have a fondness for the oversized emotions that appear in a lot of manga, and this is no exception. It's a lot of fun to watch Tenma struggle against the avaricious lot he's involved with, trying to retain some of his humanity in the process. I'm not sure where this is all going, but I expect to enjoy it (unfortunately, the word on the street is that it gets tedious after several volumes, but I'll see about that when I get there).

One thing the series has going for it is Urasawa's excellent artwork. He's great at staging dramatic conversations and drawing expressive faces. I love the big-nosed look that he gives his European characters:

I also love the investigator from what seems to be the German equivalent of the FBI who constantly taps his fingers on his thighs when he interviews people; he explains that he's "typing" information into his computer-like brain so he can summon it instantly. I don't know why, but that cracks me up.

So, I'm digging this series, and I'll certainly read the next few volumes at the very least. I don't know if I'll be able to stick with it through all 18 of them, but I'll give it a shot.

King of Thorn, volume 1
By Yuji Iwahara

This is a series I've been hearing about lately, but I actually downloaded some scanlations of it quite a while ago. I never got around to reading them, but I thought it looked interesting then and figured it would be worth checking out now. It's a crazy sci-fi series about a group of people that have been cryogenically frozen until a cure can be found for the disease with which they've been afflicted (called Medusa because it eventually turns people to stone). They wake up to find a deserted world covered with thorny vines and populated with monsters. There's lots of exciting action as they try to escape the beasts and figure out what happened. It's very well done, with a varied cast of types (tough black man, motherly woman, scared kid, etc.) which will hopefully be fleshed out in the future. And we're left with some compelling questions, like how long were they asleep? Is there anyone else left alive? Where did the monsters come from? Will they ever find any clothes besides cheap hospital gear? Does the tough tattooed guy actually have a heart of gold? And so on.

The art is very nicely done, with some nice layouts, and great monster designs:

Yikes! And there are some really cool action bits too:

It's fairly insubstantial, but I found the first volume to be a lot of fun. Who knows, it might start sucking later on, but it's got some great potential right now. I'll keep following it and see what happens.

Whew! Well, got those taken care of. I'll try to get to new pamphlet releases this weekend, along with a possibly long-winded discussion of my changing buying/reading philosophy. Come back then to see what I mean.

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