December 14, 2011
Osamu Tezuka’s proto-shoujo epic wraps up much as it began. In this second volume, the mangaka continues to churn through story concepts -- Franz finding out Sapphire’s identity, Prince Plastic getting Sapphire’s boy heart, Sapphire on the brink of death with Captain Blood questing to a foreign land to save -- at a shocking pace. Most of the ideas here could’ve sustained whole volumes if developed properly, but in this day and age when a popular series can easily run thirty volumes or more, the constantly shifting status quo here actually feels refreshing. That isn’t to say Tezuka runs into problems with the approach as once the evil witch is killed off, the story starts to lose momentum when the goddess Venus steps in as her replacement. However, even with that issue the overall story is still a thrilling adventure for kids of all ages.
That’s even with the fact that some of the stuff in this story would definitely not fly as literature for “kids” in this country. One of the things I like about Tezuka’s work is that even with his oldest stuff, such as this, there’s still enough culture clash to produce some real, “I can’t believe I just read that!” moments. Seeing things like a women’s liberation movement spring up in Sapphire’s kingdom, the appearance of the Great King Satan, the suicide of a prominent antagonist, and the overall level of violence would probably make the casual fan go, “This was really intended for young girls to read?” But I love it for those reasons, and the fact that the Great King Satan delivers what are probably the best wedding vows I’ve ever read in fiction (yes, ALL the fiction I’ve ever read). It seems amazing that this series which was written over 50 years ago reads so well today, but that’s the power and skill of Tezuka for you.
December 12, 2011
Remember when I said that the first volume of this series did a good job of conveying the “inner sadness” of its poor little rich boy protagonist’s life? Well, this second volume proceeds to do just about everything it can to undermine any sympathy I had for the character of Yozo Oba. After the events of his failed double suicide, Oba is remanded to the care of a man nicknamed “Flounder,” one of his father’s minions, with the aim of getting his life back on track. This doesn’t happen as it eventually leads to him making a break for it and hooking up with his best friend’s female editor. Oba shacks up with her and her kid for a few months before he finds out he has a talent for creating manga. Though this gets him a steady job, it isn’t long before his neuroses wind up driving a wedge between himself and the people he shares an apartment with. This leads him to subsequent relationships with the older owner of a small bar and the innocent girl who he buys his beer and cigarettes from.
While I don’t doubt that Oba is a wreck on the inside, his inability (or even unwillingness) to change now makes it hard for me to care about his struggles. It’s even more frustrating to listen to his self-analysis and realize that he’s aware of all this and STILL does nothing about it. In light of the plot developments on the last few pages, this does make me interested in seeing what happens to that relationship in the next volume... because it’s likely to be a trainwreck of utterly epic proportions. I’m also hoping that the metafictional trick of mangaka Usamaru Furuya inserting himself into the framing device of the narrative has a payoff in the next volume as well. Ideally I’d like for him to spout off something along the lines of, “Why the hell did I waste my time on reading the online diary of this unlikeable ass and then spend three volumes writing about it!?” So if you held off on buying the first volume to see how the series turned out, it’s looking like you made the right choice so far. I’ll be picking up the last volume both to see the aforementioned trainwreck, and a misguided obligation to see this through to the end.
December 10, 2011
What I like most about Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson’s documented love of short stories is that Mike Mignola loves to exploit-- er, make that, utilize the publishing opportunities it provides. This means that in the gaps between collections of the next “proper” arcs of “Hellboy” and “B.P.R.D.” we occasionally get volumes like this that collect the various ancillary mini-series and one-shots that are published in between. This happens a lot with “Hellboy” and many of those collections, like “The Crooked Man And Others,” are among the very best in the series. “Being Human” is the only the second such collection of side-stories from “B.P.R.D.” (well, after it be came an ongoing “series of mini-series” from vol. 3 onward) and while it’s not an essential read, it is a fun one.
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December 8, 2011
Longtime readers will know that I’ve banged the drum quite loudly this year in getting people to pick up vol. 13 of “Eden: It’s An Endless World!” when it arrived after a two-year wait. It’s not the only Dark Horse Manga series to have gone on “hiatus” as their catalogue is littered with titles that deserve to be finished (“Reiko the Zombie Shop,” “Satsuma Gishiden,”) and can probably stay incomplete (“Octopus Girl”). The reason I haven’t been hyping up the release of this volume after an even longer wait (two-and-a-half years) is because “MPD-Psycho” is somewhere in the middle of that pack. It’s certainly the lesser Eiji Otsuka title (the other being “The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service”) from this publisher. Also, any title that Dark Horse does decide to bring back has to overcome a certain burden in my book these days...
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December 6, 2011
Chief Red Crow prepares his re-election campaign. Agent Nitz reaches the bottom of the barrel and finds the “War on Terror” there. Catcher finds out that God’s role for him is quite different from what he thought it was. Carol continues to adjust to domestic life. Dino Poor Bear doesn’t get the girl. Shunka gets the distinct impression that he and his boss aren’t on the same page anymore. Lawrence finds out that the rest of his prison sentence is going to be far less eventful than the thought. Officer Falls Down does just that in a cave filled with broken glass, traps and live rattlesnakes. And Dash Bad Horse has several confrontations; of which less than half turn anywhere near his favor.
The point I’m trying to make here is that a lot happens in this volume. Everyone who has an ongoing subplot has it advanced in a meaningful fashion even as things build to what is likely going to be a very, very bloody climax. Writer Jason Aaron also finds the time to slip in a satisfying done-in-one story about a small-town sheriff who’s less than half the man he pretends to be. I’ve talked about how dark and grim this series can get, but the depth of character in its cast and the unconventional ways in which they develop, and are forced to develop, continue to keep me reading. “Scalped” will be concluding next year, and all signs point to it being a worthy one.
December 4, 2011
After seventeen volumes, Osamu Tezuka’s best long-form series comes to an end. There have been over a hundred stories involving the title character’s miraculous medical prowess and the majority of them have been good, if not excellent. It’s certainly entertaining to see him break the laws of medical reality on a near-regular basis, but it’s the unexpected ways in which Tezuka’s moral and cautionary tales play out that give this series a lasting appeal. In this volume alone, we see what happens when Black Jack gives a paralyzed girl the gift of flight with bird wings, performs a sex change on the unwilling heir of a Japanese railway company, patches up a captain ferrying in illegal immigrants, and performs a most unusual brain transplant. The outlandishness of some of these setups may be off putting to some, but Tezuka always makes sure that the stories are never about the surgical procedures themselves, but the human emotions and actions that serve as their need in the first place.
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December 2, 2011
Vol. 19 of “Slam Dunk” is almost as thrilling as its previous installments. We’re still knee-deep in the Shohoku/Ryonan match and even though the former begins the second half by six points, Rukawa shows he still has plenty in the tank to help make up that deficit. Not one to be outshone by his rival, Sakuragi also tries to get in where he can which results in an entertaining series of successes and foul-ups on his part. As engrossing as the action was here, it ends with more to go in the game, which makes this one of the longest matches we’ve seen so far. It’s also a little frustrating to read through an entire volume without any real progression in the story. Still, the action on the court is where it’s at and we’ve got it in spades here.
Now when I said that I wanted something to upset the various love stories in vol. 8 of “Bakuman” I didn’t mean for it to take the form of one of those ridiculous misunderstandings that you see all the time in romantic comedies. Unfortunately, that’s what we get for most of the first half here as Kaya finds out about Akito’s meetings with Ko and Aiko and everyone’s relationship is sent into turmoil because of it. This is face-palmingly stupid stuff, but it’s eventually resolved -- through marriage! -- and we’re able to get back to the far more interesting business of manga creation. So while “Muto Ashrogi” are still struggling to develop their new series, everyone around them seems to be hitting their respective strides. The game isn’t over for them as forces are conspiring to break them out of their slump and get them to develop the great series we know that they’re destined to create. I’m hoping that we’ll see it soon, if only because it’ll mean that they’ll have to face an all-different set of problems for the rest of the series.
December 1, 2011
The final installment in Max Allan Collins' crime saga closes out an imprint that never lived up to its potential.