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A Commentary on the Manga Moveable Feast, and of course a review.

filed under , 12 February 2010, 23:35 by

If you’d rather skip my long commentary-slash-introduction, I’ve set up a link for exactly that purpose

My first thought was to define “Movable Feast”, since it was selected as the title for this grand exercise (and hopefully future, similar collaborations).

A Movable Feast has two direct antecedents, one historical and one literary: The first, and older, connotation is a feast day or celebration that has no fixed calendar date.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moveable_feast

This is the ‘Feast’ Hemingway himself referenced, in the quote that after his death was re-purposed as the title for his posthumous work: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

By extension, and of course since any use of the phrase in our modern day will be an obvious homage to Hemingway’s book, a Moveable Feast can also be considered a collection of literary personages-of-note: in his memoir, Hemingway includes sketches of Joyce, Stein, Pound, Fitzgerald, and even Aleister Crowley.

The Paris of Hemingway’s day also included expats like Aaron Copland, Isamu Noguchi, Pablo Picasso, and Man Ray — to say nothing of the native French authors, poets, literary lights and philosophical minds. In the world of art, Paris between the Wars spawned Modernism, Dadaism, and Surrealism — in the world of literature, the Lost Generation found its voice (and evidently, started signing publishing contracts). It was truly a magical time and place — or at least, it seems that way when seen through the rose-coloured glasses of memory, and presented to us by people who really know how to write.

So our adaptation and use of the term “A Manga Moveable Feast” could be considered as both a celebration with no fixed date (or location) and also a collection of voices and perspectives that may have no other common associations past the fact that they happen to cohabit the same space at the same point in time, and that they engage each other for so long as all inhabit the same moment. (But, of course, with manga.) (and trying to catch a little bit of that Paris magic.)

We can’t all sit around a pair of cafe tables on a sunny Paris sidewalk with fine wine and strong coffee (though that’d be nice) and I think cigarettes will never again have the same appeal and mass acceptance that they did in the 20th century (or the same veneer of sophistication) and I doubt the internet will foster the same conversations on truth, beauty, art, the nature of humanity and the paradox of modern civilization: capable of both uplifting and enabling us all to our greatest potential, while also simultaneously unleashing destruction on a scale never before imagined.

We live in a different time. We also can’t afford to just up and move to Paris, and Paris is no longer a cheap place to live (if ever it was) and so perhaps Hemingway’s Paris is a mythical place, never to again exist in our mundane reality because it never existed to begin with. (I also have growing doubts that every conversation in 20s Paris was pure enlightenment in a carafe — I’m sure most of it was gossip and flirting and grumbling and arguments and weather and politics, same as today)

In the place of interwar Paris, we have the internet — and this truly is a magical place.

It allows people to talk to each other while living anywhere (no need to move to the Left Bank) while simultaneously recording a written transcript of all those conversations — at least, ideally. So much of the talk on the internet is fleeting, and forgotten, and trivial to begin with, but with a little direction and a little planning, maybe it’s possible to bottle some of the internet (just the good stuff, for the most part) so it can be savoured later. All we need is an index and a easily searchable tag.

I’d like to thank David Welsh for providing the former, and of course I’m pleased that the “Manga Moveable Feast” title can serve as the latter.

##

Sexy Voice and Robo
Writer & Artist: Iou Kuroda
Published by: Viz Media

400 (387 net) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to Left
Vintage: 2001-2003, originally appearing in IKKI magazine. US edition June 2005.
Release Schedule: Single volume, done in one.
Translation: Yuji Oniki
Adaptation: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Retouch and Lettering: Freeman Wong
Cover & Graphic Design: Izumi Evers
Editor: Eric Searleman

Publisher’s Rating: T+ for Older Teens
isbn 9781591169161

Rating: 4 out of 5

##

Premise: A precocious teen who fancies herself a ‘spy’ (and who genuinely has great intuition and an inherent ability to read people, among other talents) falls in with some odd people: an old man who runs a shadowy organization from a booth in a restaurant, a mecha-obsessed fan boy who can be tricked into being her mostly-willing henchman, and a string of clients (and cases) that get her into trouble. She is Nico Hayashi, code-name “Sexy Voice”, and she’s only 14 — and soon to be in over her head…

##

Review:

I’d be remiss if I began this review and didn’t mention the art.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Kuroda produced the entire book with a brush, not a pen. Also, the use of screentone is spare and a lot of the art is carried by ink — some pages (the best pages) are nothing but ink work:

Not that every critic (or reader) is going to notice the skill going into the art—or will care, as art is usually just half (maybe a bit less) of the draw of any given work. But “Sexy Voice and Robo” looks so different from nearly any other manga (or comic) — and I think by immediately exploding any expectations a reader might have for the work, it enables jaded manga readers to approach the book with new eyes, and invites new readers who have no experience at all with manga to pick up a manga volume for the first time.

This is a fat paperback (400 pages, just a shade shorter than Watchmen) and in a trim size that is a match for other, American, graphic novels (it’s a quarter-inch wider and only shorter by an eighth, or a sixteenth, or some other odd but small fraction).

Even back in 2005, this was intended to be something different, something more, than the mass-produced market-ready Shonen Jump Viz comics like Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh. Not only did it break out of the mould set by Dragon Ball and other popular Viz properties, it was literally bigger: a thick two-volume omnibus in a larger format, with a distinctive black cover. This sucker popped on the shelf. Even in clearance racks and bargain bins (which, unfortunately, is where this volume ultimately ended up) it still stood out and of course, there was the ready draw of the title “Sexy Voice and Robo” which inspired one to at least pick up the book, and start to flip through it.

In other words, it likely should have sold better than it did. It’s not ninjas, though, or ultimate fighting tournaments, or an action comic in quite that vein, and it also certainly wasn’t a romance comic (the other main thread of manga in the Aughts; note: the first issue of Shojo Beat released the same month as Sexy Voice and Robo, June 2005) — so Kuroda’s work never found the audience that it should have.

Maybe it was too early — if released today it would be just as good (obviously) but also, I don’t think it’d be able to find its audience. In 2005 it was an obvious outlier — in format, in content, in presentation, in that it is a single-volume omnibus of what is often called an unfinished series (it works as is, though of course if Kuroda wants to write a third volume there are a number of readers on both sides of the Pacific waiting to read it) — on the one hand, now five years on, the market would be more accepting of the book as a lot of similar work is out there and does quite well, but that also shows that the market in 2010 is more crowded than the field in 2005, and Sexy Voice and Robo would not only be lost in the shuffle, but discounted as ‘old’ (even though it isn’t even a decade old yet, and it’s aged quite well).

##

I’ve said a lot about the surroundings of the book without talking much about it’s insides.

Really, Sexy Voice and Robo is a great story, and moves quickly from it’s premise (14 year old genius-of-a-type Nico, and her odd circumstances) to strong action plots: kidnapping, death threats, terrorism, hit men, corporate espionage, stolen millions…

But then it loops back around from action plots to character studies: of the perps, of her employer, of Nico and Iichiro (the Sexy Voice and Robo of the title) — Since Nico is only 14, there isn’t a romantic subplot (though human relationships, including sexual relationships and their complications, are covered in the book) and while Robo gets co-billing he’s hardly a heroic figure. Though it is odd: Iichiro is an under-employed, toy-obsessed slob at the beginning of the book, and at the end, he’s the same slob — with the same flaws — but through his friendship with Nico (and it does seem to be genuine, no matter how it started or the, um, odd circumstances of all their interactions) he actually grows as a character.

This sort of nuance, though, is one of the reasons I love the book.

It’s a great mix of art and story and character, and I can only imagine what it’s reception would have been if Kuroda had been an American comicker in 2008 rather than a manga-ka in Japan in 2001. For the life of me I can’t imagine why this book isn’t better received, or why it tetters now on the very edge of being out of print, to the extent that some bloggers & fans who wanted to participate in the Manga Moveable Feast had to demure (or barely made it in by the deadline) because they couldn’t quite get their hands on a copy in time.

(I bought my copy 9 months ago — but I plucked it out of a clearance bin at a local bookstore. Special Bonus: I bought it for $3. Alas: that means it was already on it’s way out of the regular distribution chain last year. Such is the fate of all print, but a scant four years to prove yourself? —well, actually, four years is a pretty good run…)

The work is undervalued and so I’m happy to be a part of an effort to focus attention on the book.

I don’t know how, or if, this kind of exercise might promote similar works, or even what the impact might be on Sexy Voice and Robo — sure, it’d be nice if this led to a spike in sales, maybe even going so far as to inspire a second printing of the Viz edition. But I love the fact that we can have this conversation on the internet, and I look forward to the next property to be considered by the Manga Moveable Feast roundtable.

##

Conclusion: Sexy Voice and Robo gets 4 marks out of 5 — only 4 marks because it’s not quite for everyone (only for those folks who, you know, like mysteries and character studies and smart, saavy heroines who still have flaws; and who can appreciate some really excellent art, and who don’t mind that occasionally a story is about the now, and about the process and the journey, and that the story may not have an ending. yet.)

And Sexy Voice and Robo has my strong recommendation, whether you like manga or comics or not. In fact, now that I’ve rediscovered the book and pulled it out of its storage box, the first thing I’m going to do is take it into work and start passing it around. Several of my co-workers are also going to love this book, I’m sure.



Comment

  1. Sorry the review was a tad, um, half-assed I think is the best word.

    I was pressed for time. Promise to do better next time.

    Comment by Matt Blind — 14 February 2010, 17:42 #

  2. really cool art.. those sample images were great! nice one!

    Comment by design blog — 15 February 2010, 20:26 #

Commenting is closed for this article.



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