April 6, 2020
Vol. 13 starts out with a letter to the reader from mangaka Yasuo Ohtagaki. In it, he tells us that he has been suffering from tenosynovitis, an inflammation of the tendons, in his left hand which is also his drawing hand. Ohtagaki tells us that he has had to change his drawing style as a result of this impairment. The mangaka acknowledges that not everyone is going to like his new style, but he goes on to say that it’s the only way that he can continue his work. “There are many more worlds I want to explore,” he says, “It would be foolish to stop sharing my ideas because of an injured left hand.” As a fan of his work on “Thunderbolt,” I’m glad that Ohtagaki is continuing to press on in spite of his hardship.
As for how his new style looks, it’s understandably rough. The clean lines that defined Ohtagaki’s work on the series to date are now scratchier and less distinct. Some characters don’t even get faces in certain scenes. I’d say his art now has the look of something that was bashed out at the last minute to meet deadlines, except that wouldn’t be entirely true. Ohtagaki’s eye for composition is still keen as ever and he knows how to keep the action flowing on the page. When Io is throwing down with the enemy Gundams inside Taal Base, it’s not hard to get swept up in the battle. That becomes doubly true when Darryl shows up towards the end.
That’s another reason why the change in the mangaka’s art isn’t a fatal blow for the series: The drama remains fully intact. While Io and Darryl are still on their collision course, there are other subplots coming to a boil around the edges of that conflict. The one that resonates most here being the history between Levan and Dr. Humphrey as they fail to work things out in a way that leaves the doctor cursing her own kindness. There are plenty more moments like that involving the supporting cast, though this volume also lets you know what fate awaits most of the supporting cast in a “Gundam” series: death -- glorious if they’re lucky. No, the Gundams may not look as sharp as they used to, but the drama and action remain as keen as ever in “Thunderbolt.”
April 5, 2020
The crew of the Quin Zaza pulls into the port town of Quon to unload the spoils of their draking endeavors and get some much needed R&R as well. What passes for recreation is very different amongst the ship’s crew. Takita accompanies Mika has he meets up with Ula, the blind and wizened chief of a clan that has a long history of harvesting dragons and crafting things from their remains. Vannie and a couple of her friends try to relax at a bar, but can’t seem to stop talking about work or avoid being hit on by the other patrons. At least until the taciturn draker challenges one of their would-be suitors to a drinking match. Then there’s Jiro, who winds up accompanying several crew members to the local brothel. He winds up getting a different kind of action after he rescues one of their younger not-a-working-girl-yet employees from a demanding client. All of these stories are interrupted when a dragon that was brought back by another draking ship turns out to not be quite as dead as they thought it was and promptly starts ravaging the town.
Two volumes in and “Drifting Dragons” is still a pleasantly engaging read. I still think it should be better than that, given that it continues to draw heavy inspiration from two of my favorite manga series. The reason it hasn’t is because mangaka Taku Kuwabara doesn’t display a lot of imagination when it comes to his storytelling. Not only is there not a lot of interesting worldbuilding going on in this volume, but a lot of the above-mentioned encounters play out exactly as you’d expect them to. Or have the added bonus of annoying bits like Ula saying that he recognized that Takita was a woman because of her scent, right before he gropes her breast to be sure. These annoyances fade into the background when the action gets going in the volume’s second half as Kuwabara’s art fuels the clash against the dragon in an impressive manner. It still can’t wipe away my feeling that this series just isn’t living up to its potential.
April 4, 2020
Remember how the previous volume ended with Koichi at the mercy of Stand-wielding manga artist Rohan Kishibe? That battle is wrapped up soon into vol. 4 through a so-dumb-it’s-amazing quirk of Josuke’s personality. Not only does this allow Josuke to go on a hunt with Jotaro for a literal rat who can also wield a Stand, but it allows Rohan to make one of the quickest heel-to-face turns I’ve seen in recent memory too. Good thing for Koichi as the two of them stuck in a back alley with a girl who wants to tell them the story of who died in the house she’s standing by. What looks like a setup for a storyline that will carry us through this part of the Jojo Saga is quickly placed on the back burner as Josuke and Okayasu find another Stand user in Morioh. Shigechi’s a spiky-headed weirdo who can use his Stand to find all sorts of little things, like spare change, and he’s about to learn a lesson from our protagonist and his buddy… IN FRIENDSHIP!
If all this sounds like mangaka Hirohiko Araki is still casting about for a direction that “Diamond is Unbreakable” can take after the Stand-creating bow was recovered in the previous volume, then let me assure you that it reads like that too. The series has a real lack of direction at this point in its run that’s holding it back from being as good as it has been. While the serial killer business might be the hook that’s needed right now, vol. 4 still reads pretty well. That’s mainly because even when he’s casting about for direction, Araki is still a hell of a storyteller, each of the storylines in this volume has plenty of weirdness and energy to sustain them, with the rat hunt being a classic example of the kind of tactical suspense that this series does so well. That makes this volume of “Diamond is Unbreakable” still a solid read. It’s just missing the forward momentum needed to take it to the next level.
April 3, 2020
I’ve been a fan of Inio Asano ever since “Solanin” was published in English. The mangaka had an interesting perspective on the world that embraced humor, sadness, and surrealism as its characters navigated their post-college lives without proper direction. His subsequent works that were published in English -- “What A Wonderful World!,” “A Girl on the Shore,” “Nijigahara Holograph,” “Goodnight Punpun,” and “Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction” -- all emphasized one of these feelings more than the other, or just amped up all three of them. They’ve all been good, interesting reads, some of them more than others, and with fantastic art to support them all.
The reason I’m starting this review this way is because Asano has essentially been batting a thousand in my book. Up to this point. “Downfall” is the first series from him that I haven’t liked or would recommend to others. It’s a morose, bitter story of manga which really feels like the mangaka is venting his own feelings about the industry. Asano may very well mean what he says here, but he failed to find a way to make it more than sporadically interesting.
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April 1, 2020
Where I see if two B-list Image titles can add up to one great podcast!
March 30, 2020
I thought Dark Horse was done reprinting old flipped manga titles from their back catalog. I’m glad that they’re not, both for this and other titles that have long since gone out of print. Some history about this one first: “What’s Michael?” was something of an anomaly in the publisher’s seinen (young men’s) heavy output back in the late 90’s. Where they were best known for titles that skewed older and male-friendly like “Blade of the Immortal,” “Ghost in the Shell,” and “Oh! My Goddess,” “What’s Michael?” was an attempt to appeal to the lucrative “everyone” demographic. Or at least the portion of the “everyone” demographic that likes cats.
That’s because most of the humor will be easily understood by anyone who owns or has an affinity for cats. It’s easy to see oneself in the owner who can’t stop playing with his cat (even if it doesn’t want him to), the office lady who can’t bear to say goodbye to her cats each day, the guy who teases his cat by wearing a Godzilla mask, or even the tough yakuza who’s a complete softie for his cat. Mangaka Makoto Kobayashi renders all this with an expert’s eye towards caricature, giving the cats and their owners outlandishly exaggerated expressions that still feel appropriate to the comedic nature of the material.
Surrealist nature of the material as well. Kobayashi isn’t above having his cats dance, do rhythmic gymnastics, torment human-headed flies that are their prey, or just straight-up anthropomorphise them into human situations ranging from a police interrogation, poker game, or even wrestling. Such things help keep the humor in this omnibus from getting too predictable, and Kobayashi even manages a cast of recurring characters -- both human and feline -- to further hold the reader’s attention. Which is good, because while I can appreciate the mangaka’s style, and all the cats he draws, “What’s Michael?” only managed to get some chuckles out of me rather than full-on laughter. I’ll pick up the next omnibus because my love of cats is strong (and because maybe buying this will convince Dark Horse to reprint Kobayashi’s fun “Club 9” series), but this series feels like one that can only be appreciated by cat lovers.
March 29, 2020
Writer John Layman spent a week teasing this spin-off to his and Rob Guillory’s signature series. I say “spin-off” and not “sequel” because this looks to take place concurrently with “Chew,” albeit with a very different main character and focus. Saffron Chu wasn’t talked about a whole lot in the series, but it was hinted at that she was the reason protagonist Tony Chu didn’t get along with most of his family. You see, where Tony is a cop who is a cibopath (someone who gets psychic impressions from the food he eats), Saffron is a criminal who is a cibopars (someone who learns secrets from those she eats with). With the kinds of mindsets and abilities they have, a falling out between the two of them was all but inevitable and this first arc looks to tell that story.
After “Chew” and his follow-up “Outer Darkness,” I’ve got plenty of time for Layman’s creator-owned works. While Guillory won’t be back for this series, I’m optimistic that new artist Dan Boultwood will be able to deliver the goods. He at least makes a good impression with that cover to the first issue.
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March 28, 2020
The Dreaming vol. 3: One Magical Movement
Vol. 1 was basically everything I wanted to see in a return to the world and characters created by Neil Gaiman. Vol. 2 showed us what had been going on with Daniel and gave us an enchanting journey through the realms of fantasy while establishing the stakes at the heart of this story. Vol. 3 looks to bring it all together as the entity known as Wan sits in control of the Dreaming and tries to do what it things is best for the realm. This is in spite of the fact that it is unaware that it is part of a play by some corporate entity to take control of the Dreaming. Oh, and Wan also has a shadow personality that can wipe any concept from existence that it is completely unaware of as well. So it’s up to the likes of Dora, Matthew, Abel, and company to find a way to fix this or at least stall Wan long enough so that whatever Daniel’s planning can come to fruition. After the first two volumes, I’m expecting the very best from this one and I’m sure that writer Simon Spurrier and artist Bilquis Evely (and company) will be able to deliver it.
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March 27, 2020
Resident Alien Omnibus vol. 1
Dr. Harry Vanderspeigel has a secret: He’s not actually Dr. Harry Vanderspeigel. He’s actually an alien who has assumed the retired and reclusive doctor’s identity in an attempt to blend in and bide time before he can be rescued. It seemed like the perfect plan, until the town’s sole doctor was murdered and “Harry” finds himself embroiled in the investigation at both the request of the police and his own curiosity.
That’s the summary for the original miniseries, with two more being collected here. Coming from writer Peter Hogan and artist Steve Parkhouse, “Resident Alien” was a low-key delight. It also hit a very specific nostalgia target for me in that it felt like the kind of high-concept TV series that popped up from time-to-time in the 80’s that would last for a season (maybe two if it was lucky) and attract a small but devoted fanbase because it was quite good. We’re not living in the 80’s anymore, but we’ll see if that turns out to be true when “Resident Alien” debuts on Syfy later this year. In the meantime, this omnibus will be the perfect way for others to get acquainted with this series, and for me to give vols. 2 & 3 a physical, rather than digital, place on my bookshelf.
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March 25, 2020
Star Wars vol. 1: The Destiny Path
After the main “Star Wars” series wrapped up with issue #75 last year, it marked the end of an era for most of the ongoing titles in this line. No longer were they going to be spent exploring the post-”A New Hope” era, the time had come to excavate the post-”Empire Strikes Back” period. Which means that instead of the familiar trio of Luke, Leia, and Han leading the charge, it’s going to be Luke, Leia, and Lando running the show as the Rebellion finds itself under siege from the new Imperial ship Tarkin’s Will and Captain Zahra, who has a personal axe to grind with them.
After writing the “Poe Dameron” and “Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith” ongoings and the “Obi-Wan and Anakin,” and the aforementioned “Lando” miniseries, Charles Soule finally gets his shot at the brass ring of “Star Wars” titles. I don’t doubt that he’s got a plan for his run, but he’ll also have to deal with higher expectations on my end after his work on “Dark Lord of the Sith” which constantly beat my lowered ones. He’ll get plenty of help from artist Jesus Saiz, who always delivers quality work, and -- if these solicitations are to be believed -- will be an ongoing presence in the series after these first six issues.
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