Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Releases - Reviews

Was at the Kyoto International Manga Museum for this:

Presented a paper on Singapore and Malaysia comics and learned a lot about shojo manga during my time there. So it’s nice to find a stack of Chuang Yi manga waiting for me when I got back. Some hits, some misses, but it was fun reading them.

Top of the pile is the latest by Natsuki Takaya, Twinkle Stars. If you need to ask who, you are obviously not one of the millions of fans of Fruits Basket, Takaya’s previous manga series. That has sold more than 18 million copies of the various volumes (total 23) in Japan since it debuted in 1999. In America, it has sold more than 2 million copies (the Tokyopop English translated edition) and cracked the Top 20 of the USA Today Bestselling Books list, the only manga to do so at that time in 2007.

So will Twinkle Star have similar success? It’s hard to say right now as the story is more ordinary than Fruits Basket (girl falls in love with boy who hates her), which interestingly makes it closer to the shojo manga tradition of focusing on individual identity, human relationships and the psychological growth of the heroine.

Fruits Basket was about the zodiac animals. Twinke Stars has a male lead who could be from the stars. The characters from Mixim 11 (by Anzai Nobuyuki) are all from the stars. Princes in fact, or at least one of them is. The old king of Polaris was worried that his newborn son would be harmed by enemies, so he sent the baby to Earth. Fifteen years later, he sent an emissary to find his son. What else but a flying girl in skimpy outfit? Lots of OTT situations and fights with aliens.

And if it’s action you are looking for, check out Black Lagoon by Rei Hiroe and Black Monday by Ryou Ryumon and Kouji Megumi. Between the two, Black Lagoon is more popular since its debut in 2002. Two seasons of the anime have been made with a third in the works. A story of modern day pirates/mercenaries with heart, the story starts with how the Lagoon Company recruited their newest member, a Japanese salaryman at the wrong place at the wrong time. Rei Hiroe might be making a point about the choices we make in life and how we should make them not based on logic but because these things we do give meaning to our own existence. (a theme prevalent in HK wuda comics as well) But as an action manga, Black Lagoon piles up the body count.

But to me, Bloody Monday is the better manga to read. A genius computer hacker found his father framed for murder when he stumbled across evidence of a deadly virus outbreak in Russia. As the song goes, when going gets tough, the tough gets going. Bloody Monday is bloody engaging as the sense of threat faced by Fujimaru Takagi and his family/friends gets real with each volume and you are kept wondering how he could turn things around. The other good thing about this series: it’s more of a ‘mini’ series with only 11 volumes. You get a sense the story is heading somewhere with a definite end.

The last volume I’m going to talk about (which actually is the first one I picked up to read) is Kumiko Suekane’s After School Charisma. The title is totally misleading as this is no ordinary high school (but which high school in any manga series is actually ‘normal’?) , but a school for clones of famous dead people to grow up and fulfill their destiny. Okay, if it’s Marie Curie I can understand. But Adolf Hitler? The story starts with the assassination of John F Kennedy…again. Someone is out to wipe out the clones and it’s up to their high school classmate, Shiro Kamiya (the only non-clone studying at St Kleio Academy) to solve the mystery. It’s actually less engaging than it sounds and this is coming from a history buff like myself. But this is only the first volume that I have read so far and things might just pick up with the subsequent volumes.

1 comment:

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