Rocket Bomber - Manga Moveable Feast

MMF Appetizer: Three for Kids.

filed under , 30 August 2010, 11:40 by

[Here’s a digest of reviews, re-posted mostly verbatim, previously written for and posted on Comicsnob.com (Dec ’06-May ’08, now defunct) – the first three were originally posted 5 May 2007; the follow-up review for Kilala Princess vol. 2 was posted 16 June 2007]

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Warriors, vol. 1, Dragon Drive, vol. 1, & Disney’s Kilala Princess, vols. 1 & 2

Now, we all know that I have a decided preference for properties aimed at a more adult audience — or at least, those items wrapped in plastic so the kiddies can’t (supposedly) get into them — but since I like comics, I try to read a little bit of everything… particularly when I can get a free copy of something.

Some of my own readers (I know for a fact) are parents — and while they stop by this blog for their own edification and weren’t expecting these recommendations — I just so happen to have a small stack of “all ages” stuff handy so let’s surprise the readership and review a few manga for the shorter set.

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Warriors, vol. 1: The Lost Warrior

Published by: Tokyopop/HarperCollins
Created by: Erin Hunter (she gets her name on the cover)
Writer: Dan Jolley
Artist: James L. Barry

112 (90) pages.
Original Language: English
Orientation: Left to right
Vintage: April 2007
Editor: Lillian Diaz-Przybyl
Publisher’s Rating: Youth, Ages 10+

Rating: eh, 3 out of 5

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Premise: You always knew your housecat resented you; let’s look at why.

Synopsis:

The forest is being clearcut and bulldozed to make way for even more suburban housing. This displaces some of the resident feral cats, including Greystripe and other cats of the Thunderclan. (Wild cats have a hierarchical and feudal society; didn’t you know that?) In a “humane” gesture, the contractor clearing the forest hires some animal control types to capture the strays, presumably to give them homes.

This doesn’t sit too well with the cats, however. The feral cats — proud members of a clan and warriors true — do not consider themselves to be an infestation problem and so fight back. One of their number, Greystripe, bravely rescues many of his comrades, but gets trapped in the animal control van in the process.

Some weeks later, he has been placed with a family, in his terms now just a “kittypet,” and merely a shadow of the noble wild warrior that he was. Will the stifling care of the “twolegs” reduce Greystripe with the beckoning call of its free food and warm, dry, and wanton ways — or will he break out of his comfy prison to once again become a proud and self-reliant cat?

Review:

Now, if I want a cat-manga fix, I’ll likely re-read Azumanga Daioh, or something with catgirls in it, but the recent bestseller lists are telling us that either there is an untapped market for cat comics, or perhaps that the books of Erin Hunter have an enthusiastic and motivated fanbase.

The story is just getting established in this first volume, but already our noble hero has been pulled from his home and begins to hear the first Call to Adventure. I could get even more Campbellian on this, but the epic quest is I think secondary to the “aw cute” factor. Cats being cats has an appeal that goes beyond story fundamentals and myth, particularly if one loves and owns the critters. Of note as well is how artist Barry manages to differentiate his characters, since they’re all cats you know.

Me, I can’t stand having a cat around. I prefer to be the laziest, most arrogant thing in my house, thank you, and I don’t need the competition. (oddly, cats love me — especially as a place to sleep; just part of the other furniture, you know.)

Much like Inubaka is the prefect thing for dog lovers, here we have something for cat people, or perhaps for those unduly enamoured of Hunter’s novels. Not having read Hunter’s originals, I’m not too impressed but will give the book 3 marks, judged on it’s own merits as a decent character- and story-intro and overall solid first outing. (As an extra after the manga, the publishers give us a 6 page excerpt from the first Warriors novel, and 4 pages from the most recent — out of the kindness of their hearts, I’m sure)

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Dragon Drive, vol. 1

Published by: Viz Media’s Shonen Jump
Writer & Artist: Ken-ichi Sakura

202 (188) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to left
Vintage: 2001. US edition April 2007.
Translation: Lucy Craft, Corinne & Kohei Takada, Honyaku Center Inc.
Adaptation: Ian Reid, Honyauku Center Inc.
Retouch & Lettering: Jim Keefe
Design: Sam Elzway
Editor: Urian Brown
Publisher’s Rating: suitable for all ages.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Premise: There’s a new game in town! Oh. yeah, I guess you’ve heard that bit before.

Synopsis:

Our hero Reiji Ozora is a generic-issue loser, never able to succeed at anything, or even stick with it for long. Though when he is introduced to the new Dragon Drive game by childhood friend Maiko, he finds something that not only engages his interest, but for which he may have an aptitude.

The wildcard is his new dragon, assigned to him for the game supposedly based on his own skills and abilities: while the dragon “Chibi” (as Reiji names the poor runt) doesn’t seem like much, in match after match Chibi manages to surprise everyone, even the creators of the game…

Review:

DD cannibalises quite a few bits and pieces of other titles: It’s a computer game, but you get cards for game elements. You play in virtual reality, but you have to train your dragon to get it to level up. The owner and fighter have to be in sync, and the control depends on mental effort…

Yes, this is in fact a re-hash of every other proxy fighter released for the past 9 years. So far, it manages to succeed despite that, though I think our manga-ka, Saken-sensei, owes a vast unacknowledged debt to CLAMP’s Angelic Layer, which Dragon Drive most closely resembles. (Angelic Layer is an excellent anime, which I recommend —a personal favourite of mine, in fact— but only a so-so manga title which is fine for fans of CLAMP or the show but not worth seeking out otherwise.)

This is a fine title to give to young fans who have already “caught them all” or collected all the super-rare whatever-eyed-whatever-coloured dragons of Yugi’s. It’s more of the same, but different, and that’s all a lot of fans are looking for.

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Disney’s Kilala Princess, vol. 1

Published by: Tokyopop
Writer: Rika Tanaka
Artist: Nao Kodaka

96 (84) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to left
Vintage: January 2007
Adaptation: Kathy Schilling
Retouch & Lettering: Jennifer Carbajal
Graphic Design: Monalisa De Asis
Editor: Hope Donovan
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Premise: Young girl with an over-developed imagination and princess-fixation gets to put her Disney trivia to use, in an effort to save her best friend.

Synopsis:

Kilala and her best friend Erika attend a school with an odd tradition: each year there is a princess contest (…seems like a beauty pageant to me) where a prime example of young-girlhood gets chosen as princess, and awarded the school’s tiara. We can’t be sure what else the honour entails because soon after winning, Erika gets kidnapped. Oh… that should be “kidnapped, exclamation point. [!]”

Kilala has recently made the acquaintance of two handsome young men: the likeable but slightly abrasive Rei, and the slightly older, less likeable Valdou. It seems these two are on a quest, to find the princess who can save their alternate realm. In an odd twist, it may be that Erika, winner of the trifling pageant, was in fact the princess they sought. Now Kilala and Rei (and Valdou too, I guess) must embark on a mission to rescue Erika, and find the fabled Seventh Princess. exclamation point, !

Review:

The best thing I can say about this title is that it would have been a much better manga without the cumbersome Disney tie-in. I can see how writer Tanaka is going to use the Disney properties to good effect, even with just the hints dropped in this first, slim volume (and given the setup and pacing, they’re aiming for at least a dozen of these) [edit: though only 4 ever came out in English] but while I like Rei and Kilala and the supporting cast (so far) I don’t know that I necessarily needed to see Disney’s Snow White brought back as a character in any form, let alone as one merely there to provide a little colour to someone else’s story.

I think later Disney princesses (Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine) will translate better, while the classics (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella) aren’t going to do so well with the manga treatment. I’ll give artist Kodaka some praise: the art almost works; the transitions from original to borrowed art are OK and not as jarring as one might expect, but there is still a disconnect — These differences might be mitigated as the story progresses to newer Disney titles but certainly not the one that dates to 1939 …but here we are.

No doubt, I wouldn’t have read this at all if a promo copy (through my bookstore, not sent to me personally) weren’t available, but I find Kilala and Rei likeable enough characters, and might even be tempted to buy a few more of these (depending on the story).

And honestly, that should be praise enough. If I’m tempted, then the Princess fans at your house will eat these up wholesale, with or without sugar. You might even wait a few months (or a year) so that more of Kilala is available, before giving this crack-like substance to the young Disney otaku in your home.

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Disney’s Kilala Princess, vol. 2

Published by: Tokyopop
Writer: Rika Tanaka
Artist: Nao Kodaka

96 (84) pages.
Vintage: May 2007
English Adaptation: Kathy Schilling
Retouch & Lettering: Star Print Brokers
Production Artist: Courtney Geter
Cover Design: Monalisa De Asis
Editor: Hope Donovan
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12

Rating: still 3 out of 5

What’s up:

With the help of the Seven Dwarves (yes, those seven) and Snow White (yes, that Snow White) Kilala and Rei manage to defeat the Evil Queen, acquire the means to find Kilala’s kidnapped friend Erika, and rush back to the “real” world to save her before it’s too late. And so begins the second half of the book…

The Disney tie-in is a fine gimmick, for what it is (i.e. cheap ploy to sell books) but the new characters that Tanaka created are what drew me into the story, at least far enough to spend six bucks on the second volume. The plot gets surprisingly complex before we end volume two on a bit of a cliffhanger. I expected the chaste, sweet romance — but here it is as a plot point, not just an eventual goal for our young heroine. In other books she might have pined away in silence for volumes, eventually getting closer to her beau, and not confessed until the final chapter. As it turns out, the pair may be split apart and there is only one night (and a dance, naturally) for the two to share.

Of course, to find out what happens after the dance, and why it was so easy to find Erika, the lost friend, after the flashy kidnapping in volume one, we all get to wait four months for the third installment.

I have to wonder if the the writer and artist had the idea first, and then had to sell it to Kodansha, who then had to pitch it to Disney. I suppose it’s much more likely that Tokyo Mickey had the idea, and then went looking for the manga-ka to make a cheap knock-off in the ol’ Princess line, but there is a surprising amount of heart here.

Kilala is a fairy tale by-the-numbers, nothing really original, but even a plain tale will be a pleasure, if it is a plain tale well told.

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Postscript:

Since these reviews were written (two years ago, I’ll remind you) Dragon Drive was finished (at 14 volumes), Warriors continues to be published (10 volumes and counting), and Kilala Princess was abandoned by Tokyopop after 4 chapter books (corresponding to only the first 2 of 5 Japanese tankobon) — I don’t know what the licensing fees were like but given Kodansha’s current relationship with Tokyopop I think we can write off Kilala as a nice trifle but unlikely to see completion.

Though if the [relatively new] Kodansha USA were looking for recommendations on what to publish: Disney’s Kilala Princess is just sitting there, waiting, and quite likely to make money. Maybe quite a bit of money, if marketed correctly.



Manhwa Moveable Feast: The Color of Earth

filed under , 27 June 2010, 10:50 by

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

Published by: First Second

320 (306) pages.
Original Language: Korean
Orientation: Left to Right
Vintage: 2003. US edition Mar. 2009.
Translation: Lauren Na
Adaptation, Lettering, and Design by uncredited staff.

No publisher’s age rating was given, but I’d put it at 13+ (for this first volume) assuming the kid knows where babies come from and can handle brief nudity in context.
isbn 9781596434585

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Two more notes on the publication history of The Color of Earth: according to the publishing info at the front of the book, the original title (as credited in the copyright notice) is “The Story of Life on the Golden Fields, vol. 1”. Also, First Second negotiated English translation rights directly with the author — by itself, not that unusual for books, but I note it because of how it differs from most US manga publication.

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The Color of Earth is a depiction of small village life in a pre-war Korea — likely pre-1910, though it’s hard to put an exact date on the book. If the author’s forward is to be believed (“little gems from my mother’s life at sixteen”) then this is Korea (or at least a small part of it) from just four and maybe three generations ago, which doesn’t quite jibe either. Modes of dress are traditional, though the use of patterned textiles by residents in a rural Korean village points to cheap, imported, machine produced cloth — so sometime after 1800, and probably before 1895. The existence of things like steam rail but the lack of war or politics points to a very narrow range: 1885-1895. One might also consider some later dates, but to go as far as 1910 without any mention of Japanese occupation or international politics—even in a rural village— would be remiss. [these historical details may be in later volumes, but a cursory glance through both didn’t reveal any]

Granted, this is far, far from a historical account. The Color of Earth is soaked in nostalgia, perhaps, for a simpler time and views village life through a widescreen, rose-colored Cinemascope lens:

The book is beautiful, in it’s depiction of nature

and other key detail, like the simple but obviously crafted buildings, or the aforementioned locomotive

obviously, Kim Dong Hwa knows his way around a piece of paper, and the care taken shows in the art.

As a story though…
well, I guess that’s why we review these things

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Let me start out by saying: I thought farm kids grew up with animals and the like and so had a much better idea where babies come from, what males and females tend to do to procreate the species (whatever species) and probably also have a better idea of what the block-and-tackle look like and why guys have it while girls don’t. Granted, Ehwa when first introduced is only 7, so the childish games and curious questions are part of that learning process — and her mother runs an inn, it’s not like they farm — but still I thought the first few chapters of the book were gratuitous.

If we’re telling a romance story, we start with the romance (age 16? earlier?). If this is to be a slice of life tale, I’d expect a lot more of the day-to-day, a better development of friendships, kids being kids and the like. If we’re going to explore human sexuality, I’d like to see more couples, more points of view, even more characters who better represent the whole of human nature and needs and compromises, and not just this one-note homily of waiting-and-wanting.

Wuthering Heights or other Victorian-era romance did the chaste courtship-and-marriage bit and they did it better.

At best you can credit The Color of Earth for being honest about the sex, but at worst it comes off as very crude: The boy with his hands always down his pants; Ehwa’s “friend” Bongsoon who seems to revel in highlighting all the things she knows (and has done) that (chaste, pure) Ehwa hasn’t.

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So, these kids need a sex education program, and they needed it 2 years ago.

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The book could use something, anything, to do besides having characters sit around and talk about sex and relationships in flowery metaphor. …makes me wish for a giant robot or alien invasion to turn up just so this book would have a plot…

What about a bad harvest? Or a flood? Or a government official coming to collect the overdue taxes, or an honest love-triangle for any of these characters? Not that every book needs heaping helpings of drama — there is something to be said for quiet reflection, or a slice-of-life story that isn’t about anything in particular.

However, The Color of Earth isn’t a consideration of life or the small joys to be found there; even considered as ‘one girl’s coming of age story’ this is weak sauce. The heavy and heavy-handed insistence on sex makes the book a tad depressing. There is a whole world out there, and as a child I was curious about all of it, and yet whenever Ehwa is shown walking through the countryside — the beautiful countryside, as the art in this book is quite lovely — she is always staring down at her feet, and fretting over woman’s lot in life.

The author made a choice, both to begin the story when Ehwa was only seven, and then to show only those moments in her life that had to do with her education into the ways of men and women, and the moments when she herself seemed obsessed with them. We miss out on years of her life that are not shown, and on the rest of her world, and on the opportunity to see her as a real person, and not a caricature.

The most interesting person to me is Ehwa’s mom, in that she at least has a job, a business to run, a daughter to raise, and a life – She also has a lover, who seems to care for her even if he is a wanderer who only appears infrequently. She’s a complex, rounded character —

Or at least she would be if she weren’t in the story merely to explain things to her daughter, and to fret as her daughter grows into a woman. It would also help if she had a name: in the book, she’s just “Ehwa’s mom” when referred to by others.

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The “Color Trilogy” (of which this is the first volume) is worth a bit of your time, to consider the craft that went into the art, and to gawk at the artwork itself. It’s also of note as manhwa that has received the full-on indy graphic novel treatment: First Second did a fine job packaging the books, 300+ page volumes in a larger trim size (6×8½ in.) with french flaps and uncut, deckle edge pages. These are fine, handsome volumes, and your library will look better for having them.

Even considering all my reservations about the story and characters, this is also a view into a culture that just doesn’t exist anymore. No matter how narrow the window provided, it’s still a glimpse into a time (though just a century ago) long past.

For other opinions and takes on the title, please visit the MMF Index Page for the Color Trilogy over at Manhwa Bookshelf. This is just about the last day of our week-long look into these books, so a final wrap-up is likely to post tomorrow at Melinda’s site

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A free review copy was provided [second-hand] by the publisher, via the kind offices of a friendly librarian. [thanks, Eva!]



Manga Moveable Feast: Mushishi, an overview

filed under , 30 April 2010, 11:20 by

From the Publisher:

Shortly after life emerged from the primordial ooze, deadly creatures—mushi—came into terrifying being. They still exist and wreak havoc in the world today. One man with a sardonic smile has the knowledge and skill to save those plagued by mushi.

They Have Existed Since The Dawn Of Time

Some live in the deep darkness behind your eyelids. Some eat silence. Some thoughtlessly kill. Some simply drive men mad. Shortly after life emerged from the primordial ooze, these deadly creatures, mushi, came into terrifying being. And they still exist and wreak havoc in the world today. Ginko, a young man with a sardonic smile, has the knowledge and skill to save those plagued by mushi… perhaps.

Mushishi is a 10 volume manga series from Yuki Urushibara, who has also written at least one manga short-story collection and is the author of the new ongoing series, Suiiki, which started in November of 2009. Both Mushishi and Suiiki are serialized in Kodansha’s Afternoon. Mushishi won an Excellence Prize at the 2003 Japan Media Arts Festival and the 2006 Kodansha Manga Award.

There is a 26-episode anime adaptation by the Artland studio, which ran Oct. ’05 to June ’06 (and which has been licensed and released in the US and Canada by Funimation [flash site]) and a live-action movie, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, originally released 24 March 2007 — and also released in the US by Funimation as a subtitled DVD, which came out Aug. 2009.

[though no official word was found on the Funimation site, a listing on RightStuf points to a new re-release of the Viridian Collection Edition of the full Mushishi anime for just $40 MSRP, timed for early June in advance of the Del Rey release of the vols. 8-10 omnibus in July.]

Mushishi is an episodic manga, and what passes for an ongoing plot are the reveals of the past of our enigmatic protagonist Ginko, the Mushishi or mushi-master of the title. Each chapter is largely self-contained, with a problem presented to Ginko by whatever local mushi might be evident, and then a conclusion: but not always a ‘cure’ or solution. Sometimes the only way to deal with mushi is to find the proper balance, or to more fully accept them; sometimes there isn’t a happy ending, because there can’t be a happy ending.

This mix of conflict and acceptance, redemption and tragedy — and the thick layer of mystical, elemental, primeval mushi that exist just beneath the surface — combined with the dreamlike qualities of the story and the seemingly never-ending series of small, isolated Japanese villages — and the timelessness of the setting (Ginko seems a modern man perpetually wandering a pre-1900 Japanese wilderness) — and it all adds up to a manga that hits emotional notes and spurs intellectual reflection in the reader.

It’s about as far from shojo sparkles and shonen tournaments as we can get.

Not that it’s perfect. In an upcoming series of diary posts (reviewing a volume a week, give or take) I’ll be critically re-reading each volume in turn and I’ll be quite happy to pick nits and to point to flaws. But taken as a whole, Urushibara’s Mushishi is a magical world to get lost in, for an hour or two. Also, each chapter stands alone, so it’s easy to dip in-and-out, say, during lunch breaks or while commuting on the train.

I’m taking the Mushishi MMF as an opportunity; a starting point, not a way to post my final thoughts on the series — and this is only natural, as the series hasn’t ended yet. And depending on how long it takes me to post the seven weekly volume reviews, I might even closely run up into a review of an ARC of vols. 8-10, provided Del Rey can get those out in advance of the 27 July release date.

More than 2 years ago I wrote a review of volume 1. — I’m trying not to think about it much, lest it colour the new review (or about how much I think I’ve improved as a blogger & writer since them) but it does count as record of my introduction to the series.

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The April Manga Moveable Feast is hosted by Ed Sizemore at Manga Worth Reading. Please check out the review index posted there for other views on Mushishi.



Farewell, Emma.

filed under , 22 March 2010, 17:36 by

Speaking for myself, this has been a grand two weeks as a blogger: I’ve been able to share my enthusiasm for manga, I’ve been inspired to post my first reviews in years (and to a depth I’ve doubt I’d ever attempted more than once), I’ve had the opportunity to sit amidst a growing maelstrom of internet activity where a number of manga bloggers I’ve known and respected for years sent links to me

and of course, I purchased a new laptop, installed a new scanner, caught the flu, ran my annual store inventory (just this past Sunday night), rewatched the Emma anime in full, built some shelves... and I even got to do some of these things near simultaneously:

That is to say, 48 hours ago I was marathoning the Emma anime while alternating between ice packs and medication hoping my fever (and throbbing migrane) would go down before 5pm on Sunday, so I could go in and at least limp through the store inventory.

It’s been Grand.

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No complaints, no accusations, no recriminations: I actually had hoped to be done with the Emma MMF at least two days before inventory, so that’s my own fault, and the rest of it… is just life. And life will always surprise us.

And no matter how fun, the party has to come to an end.

I might have left the window open even longer, but we’re stretching two and pushing three weeks already and while I have great fondness for the Manga Moveable Feast it is not mine; the MMF belongs to the community.

I’ll be pleased to link to (and talk about) any additional Emma articles — please send them to me! — but from now on these will and must be just links. Alas, the MMF, the event, is over.

(over until next month)

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Thank you, everyone; not only those of you who submitted contributions but also, heartfelt thanks to our many readers. I will always have a fondness for Mori’s manga, and I’ve been happy to share that enthusiasm with all of you over the past two weeks.

Ed Sizemore of Manga Worth Reading has volunteered to host the next Manga Moveable Feast; tentatively scheduled for the last week of April. Please set a bookmark and keep an eye on that site for future announcements.

The MMF is still an internet experiment, though with each iteration we come closer to making this an institution. If you weren’t already familiar with Urushibara’s Mushishi, our next topic & focus, this would be a great time to pick up a volume or two and read ahead. Any blogger, indeed any fan, is more than welcome to contribute to the MMF. All you need is a copy of the book, a viewpoint, and enough time to type up your thoughts.



Emma MMF: The Anime

filed under , 22 March 2010, 10:37 by

An extended aside, & since no one else bothered:

A condensed review of the Emma anime adaptation.

The Emma anime is… fine. I enjoyed it but I stop just short of fully recommending it

  • The pacing is leisurely. …that is to say, sloooooow. The first 12 ep. season corresponds to just the first 2 manga volumes — and the second 12 only get us up to volume 4, in practical terms, while borrowing bits and pieces of later chapters and side stories (all out of order) to kind of flesh it out, while introducing several new twists (and a substantially different ending) while still not introducing an actual sense of urgency.
  • The only character who gains from adaptation is Hans. He has even more interaction with Emma than in the manga, and becomes, in effect, fully William’s rival. It’s not bad, particularly if one is a fan of Hans, but it is… different.
  • There is no abduction. There is no fevered correspondence twixt Emma and William over the post. There is a shortening of the distance between E&W in fact (soon, moves back to London, little fuss) and instead of a long-distance longing with all its romantic frission, William ends up looking like a stalker.
  • …worse, Emma becomes a blank: unable to decide, unable to commit, motives unknown — heck, one can’t even be sure if Emma loves anyone: Hans, William, or arse else besides.

Of course adaptations are, of course, adaptations. […if you can parse/grok that last statement.] But it’s a bit like the anime company stole the heart from the romance, and all we’re left with is beautiful, colorful depictions of Victorian England with even more attention to detail, with a lovely soundtrack (I almost recorded a podcast review just to feature clips from the soundtrack) and a satisfying but not quite perfect ending. In fact, the false ending of Volume 7 was better than the anime ending, even given the similarities (and I want an Emma OVA with the Volume 10 Ending right now. Chop chop. [*clap, clap*] C’mon Japan, make it happen.)

Let me back it up a half step and restate and re-emphasise at least one point: the anime is a beautiful, colorful depiction of Victorian England with even more attention to historical detail, matched with a lovely soundtrack

Other pros:

  • While William’s new ‘quest’ in the second season is different from chasing across continents for Emma (which, as a plot device, always works) it does point out his commitment to family and ‘making things right’ and more fully illustrates the rivalry and conflict between houses Jones and Campbell — & these are valid plot points. [a tad dry, romantically, but certainly valid]
  • There are some excellent [exceptionally rare, but excellent] scenes in later episodes where the voice and ghost? of Kelly Stownar advise (and provoke) Emma. (…with an excellent coda twixt Kelly and Al at the very end of episode 24)
  • Expanded characterization (if not expanded roles) for the Jones siblings — though there is a nice bit where Arthur, grudgingly, helps his older brother at the last minute that plays not only into the plot-at-hand but also stays true to his established character.
  • and lest the point get lost: As stated, the anime includes and in fact revels in historical details above and beyond what was presented in the manga. It’s like history porn.

Perhaps, had I watched the anime before reading the manga, I might be more forgiving: the last five volumes of the manga just blow the Emma anime out of the water. But, since the anime was most assuredly in development before Vol. 7 released (and long before vol. 10 was a twinkle in Mori’s eye) there are some things that had to be done, decisions to be made, to keep to the broadcast schedule.

  • If you’re the sort who’d never read the manga anyway, then yes, I recommend the anime.
  • If you’re a fan of the manga, and would like to see a slightly different retelling, I’d also recommend the anime.
  • If you’re a history nut, buff, and/or trivia freak, then most assuredly believe me when I tell you you need to see the anime. (right down to the advertisements on the side of ‘omnibuses’ — there is detail in every frame)

So, summing up [and let’s link to the local licensee]
Emma, the anime is available in two box sets from Nozomi Entertainment [love those guys] and I’d like recommend it to you.

& Yes, I own these. That should be as much a recommendation as anything else.

If one is a fan of shojo romance [or action of any sort] you’ll find it lacking, but approaching the property from just about any other angle you’ll find it’s not only good, it’s really good.



Emma MMF: Daily Diary, Vols. 7 & 10

filed under , 22 March 2010, 07:35 by

Emma, vols. 7 & 10
Writer & Artist: Kaoru Mori
Published by: CMX

Vol. 7
280 (265) pages.
Vintage: 2006. US edition Mar 2008.
isbn 9781401217372

Vol. 10: Chapters 18, 19, and “The Final Chapter”
total volume: 240 (228) pages; the selected chapters comprise 99 pages.
Vintage: 2008. US edition Dec. 2009
isbn 9781401220723

Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to Left
Translation & Adaptation: Sheldon Drzka
Lettering: Janice Chiang
Design: Larry Berry
Assistant Editor: Sarah Farber
Editor: Jim Chadwick

Publisher’s Rating: Teen Plus, for “Nudity & Suggestive Situations”

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So.

[*ahem*] Spoilers!

It’s going to be hard, this far into a series and this close to the end (yes, 364 pages is “close to the end”) to discuss the work without giving a bit of the show away. This is why the commentary portion of Daily Diary Vol 6 was so very terse (some of you might have considered that an improvement) but we’re going to dive right in and give the remainder of Emma all due care and proper consideration.

If you haven’t finished the series and didn’t want to spoil anything, this sentence would be an excellent place to stop reading. Here, go read what everyone else has to say about Emma

##

Back in volume 6 (chapters 38-41) Emma was abducted from the Haworth estate — and since a letter from “William” was used as a pretence to get her out in the open, late at night, it must be presumed someone of the Jones or Campbell [anti-Emma] factions saw fit to just remove the troublesome maid from England. Emma was forced to write a fairwell letter to William saying only that she would be going to America.

Soon after volume 7 opens, we see Emma in the new world. She’s despondent, but still breathing and walking, and resigned, manages to find a little work — a way to eat.

William, on the other hand, isn’t going to let an ocean or a lack of either facts or clues deter him: he will find Emma.

Of course, he has to chase her down after he finds her, but still.

The hard part wasn’t falling in love. The hard part wasn’t exchanging letters on the sly, or slipping out to the Crystal Palace for a lovely afternoon, and evening, and a moonlight kiss. The hard part isn’t the storybook romance: What’s difficult is trust, and vulnerability, and openess, but above all trust.

I include so much of this chapter as scans because this is the real turning point. Mori could have cut the story off here, after the drama of an abduction and the adventure of a race to America and the heartfelt reunion — cap it with 16 pages of dénouement, a wedding, a bit with the villian getting his just deserts and the fairy-tale happily ever after. But the story doesn’t end here; we’ve chapters and chapters to go.

This relationship is going to take work, real effort on the part of both William and Emma, in their different ways. There is something very real, and very modern, about the relationship in Emma — and this is going to carry through not just through the rest of volume 7 (and it’s ending, intended at one time to also be the series ending) but even into volume 10, when the fairy-tale wedding finally comes after hundreds of pages of side stories, there is still a touch of bittersweet: the harshness of the outside world that can’t quite be overcome, even with love.

##

Choices have consequences.

William’s road, and the Jones’s, will perhaps be tougher because he must fight to change both public perception and overcome the anymosity of that aristocratic bastard, the Viscount Campbell. Emma’s battle is personal, but she has allies: Dorothea Meredith, Emma’s former employer, and Aurelia Jones (“Mrs. Trollope” and William’s mother — that was the reveal at the end of volume 4, for those keeping score at home). Both women are a tad eccentric as well; they’ll be good tutors for our Miss Emma.

Much as Mrs. Stownar once taught a flower girl, plucked off the streets, how to become a perfect maid, I think we can see how Mesdames Meredith and Jones will be able to help vault that same lovely young woman into society. Eventually.

And actually, that’s where Mori leaves us (at the end of volume 7): Just as the journey of Emma & William begins, full of promise, and the promise of hardships, but mostly with hope. No happy ending yet.

##

And years pass, both in the narrative and also for fans: volume 10 hadn’t even come out in Japan yet when CMX released volume 7 to us in the States, and many readers (not aware of more to come) took Mori at her word: The End, done in seven. The promise of ‘side-stories’ did little to allay or alloy that conviction, and we let it soak in. I went back and re-read vols 1-7, all in an afternoon (though a bit more slowly, savouring the art, lingering a bit) and thought quite a bit about what the ending meant, and why it was actually a pretty good place to end the story.

[that is to say: it left you wondering. the reader could fill in the gaps. one wanted more but was left just a bit hungry, just a bit curious. a sophistocated manga fan knows it’s not always happy endings, but after seven volumes it was… quite nice.]

Oh, who am I kidding? We want a wedding and kids and grandkids and happily-ever-after, dammit!

It took a few years, but eventually, we got it — in fact, if the other volumes were set in 1895 (which is either the general consensus or just what we all read on Wikipedia) then it took at least 5 years for Emma & William to overcome enough of their mutual obstacles to get to a wedding. An exact year isn’t given, but it’s strongly hinted to be 1901 (Victoria died in Jan. of that year) and the Meredith and Jones children would be quite a bit older if much more than 5 years had passed.

This is the payoff. Old friends, new relationships, a twist or two: these last hundred pages are a lot of fun. Once again, I find myself wanting to just scan all of it. Yes, you should buy this. In fact, I’m going to make you buy it: I’m not scanning the wedding dress [dripping with lace, and a bouquet that is practically a waterfall of roses] or what Dorothea is wearing [ravishing!] or what the youngest — Vivi, Colin, Erich, & Ilse — all look like after growing up *just* a bit more [so cute! and young Vivi is turning into quite the heartbreaker] — or Grace’s husband (and baby) or Hakim’s aeroplane or the quiet garden church…

I’ll tease you, just a bit:

Here’s the reception and buffet, before the guests fall on it like vultures

And of course there’s dancing

While the end of volume 7 was intellectually satisfying and certainly could have been the end — having volume 10 hits all the right notes and gives one the warm fuzzies and stupid smiles, and maybe even a tear or two…

But before you think I’ve gone soft in the head: a final word.

Click here for the archive of all Emma Manga Moveable Feast links



Emma MMF Daily Diary Special: The Emmaverse

filed under , 21 March 2010, 14:36 by

The term Emmaverse comes from Mori herself (at least in translation) in the afterword to what was to have been the final volume — volume 7:

Emma, vols. 8, 9, & 10; & Shirley (one-shot)
Writer & Artist: Kaoru Mori
Published by: CMX

Vol. 8
[this cover features a very young Kelly Stownar, with her husband Doug, 1851]
208 (201) pages.
Vintage: 2007. US edition Mar. 2009.
isbn 9781401220709

Vol. 9
[This cover features Dorothea and Wilhelm, whose last name in Mölders, or Mulders, but which is translated in the CMX version as “Meredith”]
224 (206) pages
Vintage: 2007. US edition Jul. 2009
isbn 9781401220716

Vol. 10
[since I’m concentrating on side-stories, that’s the back cover to vol. 10, featuring Arthur Jones and his fellow Eton Prefect, Henry Preston]
240 (228) pages
Vintage: 2008. US edition Dec. 2009
isbn 9781401220723

Shirley
200 (193) pages
Vintage: 2003. US edition Jul. 2008
isbn 9781401217778
[Unlike the Emma Volumes, Shirley is rated by the publisher as “Teen”, not “Teen Plus”]

Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to Left
Translation & Adaptation: Sheldon Drzka
Lettering: Janice Chiang
Design: Larry Berry
Assistant Editor: Sarah Farber
Editor: Jim Chadwick

Publisher’s Rating: Teen Plus, for “Nudity & Suggestive Situations”

##

Even restricting myself to just a few scans from each volume, there is a lot of manga to cover and this will be (already has been) an image-heavy post. I’ll start with Shirley, and then we’ll get to the Emma side-stories:

##

Though it was published by CMX as a kind of coda or bonus after volume 7 (it came out about 4 months after the “end” of the Emma series) Shirley in fact dates to much earlier — it was published in Japan in 2003, when only 2-3 volumes of Emma were out, and based on both the tone and complexity (or lack thereof, rather) I think it’s safe to say the stories in Shirley either predate Emma or are contemporaneous with the earliest Emma chapters.

Recently (as in just last month, 16 Feb.) Anime News Network posted an article translated from the Japanese reporting Mori’s return to Shirley with at least two new chapters to post in nos. 10 and 11 of Enterbrain’s Fellows! magazine. (I say ‘at least two’ because each magazine installment might just be more than a single chapter each) Fellows! #10 publishes in Japan on April 15, so it’ll be quite some time yet before we know CMX’s plans (if any) regarding the new content.

That said, Shirley as published to date is only 4 chapters, the first 120 pages of so of the volume that bears her name. The basic premise is that over-worked pub owner Bennett Cranley advertises for a live-in maid, and the only response to her ad is from a young orphan girl named Shirley — the background and details of Shirley’s life before she appears on Bennett’s doorstep are left intentionally vague (though she appears to have been previously employed as a domestic… somewhere) but these are the sorts of introductory details that are swept under the carpet in the first 12 pages or so, to make way for the actual story.

The charm of Shirley, as both character and manga, is the dichotomy presented of a 13-year-old maid: seemingly capable as a servant but also emotionally still growing—and needy, though she takes pains to hide it. Bennett Cranley is both an older-sister-figure and foster mother—and employer, let’s not forget that dynamic—and perhaps the most touching part of this too-short story is the simple gift of a doll (soon to be named Marie) from employer to maid.

Following the Shirley chapters are a couple of much more generic maid stories, featuring domestics who must care for both the very young, and the very old. These are pleasant enough, just not much worth writing about; though this guy:

is my new Twitter icon.

##

Before I go on about the Emma side-stories, let me just catalogue them all:

Vol 8.

  • Two chapters with Doug and Kelly Stownar
  • Two chapters with Eleanor Campbell, her sisters, and her new beau.
  • A chapter featuring a number of minor characters with little to hold it together past the conceit of the daily newspaper “The Times”
  • a home visit by Tasha, one of the Merediths’ maids, to see her large, boisterous family

Vol 9.

  • a vignette featuring Erich, the young son of the Meredith’s, and his pet squirrel Theo (in fact, the squirrel gets most of the pages in this one)
  • a sweet chapter featuring Dorothea & Wilhelm in bed, savoring a slow, leisurely morning together, interspersed with flashbacks on how the two first met.
  • the first meeting of Hakim and William, when both were boys.
  • a chapter featuring Polly & Alma (& a number of the other Meredith household servants) and a shopping holiday in the nearby town.
  • Two chapters featuring the opera (notably, three singers who perform there) in a side-story that can only be considered tangental, at best, to the main narrative

Vol 10.

  • A single chapter featuring another date between William & Emma (remember those two?)
  • A flashback to Germany, showing Adele and Maria when they were first hired by the Merediths
  • A chapter with Arthur, the Jones’s second son, showing his days at Eton as a Prefect.
  • A short chapter—six pages—giving Eleanor Campbell what might just turn out to be her happy ending
  • A fun shift toward 4-koma (4 panel gag comic strips) with brief asides featuring nearly all the secondary charaters
  • & the final 100 pages, which return to the main story and cap the series with it’s ultimate conclusion — but that’s another Daily Diary.

Most of these asides work just fine on their own; in fact they could have been interspersed thoughout the first seven volumes (especially the flashbacks) with very little effort. They’re included in these last three volumes because that’s the way Mori wrote them — like many of us, she just couldn’t leave these characters, and their lovely Victorian (and pre- and post-Victorian) setting alone.

Very few chapters in these last volumes are ‘necessary’; even the first chapter of Vol 10, actually featuring William and Emma, is just a nice diversion with little to add to either plot or character. Still, Mori’s art is exceptional and the characters are fun. And we also get to see a bit beyond stereotypes of ‘maid’ and ‘gentry’ — each side-story is a different facet, and by shifting the spotlight we get to see how each facet contributes to the gem that is Emma

Aside from the squirrel chapter, which is actually quite beautiful in its depiction of nature

but which struck me as flat (& a tad boring) storywise, each chapter in these 2 1/2 volumes was well worth going out of the way for. Of course, much of this is due to Mori’s care in depicting setting; chapter 5 of vol 8 “The Times” is all about setting: the paper is used both as a narrative device to pull many different character stories together, and also—from typesetting early in the morning to it’s eventual fate as a cleaning accessory the next day—as a way to outline a whole day of Victorian life.

Detail and setting are why we love Mori; though most of her plots are strong enough without the gilding, it is the attention to detail that makes the books a joy and wonder.

In many ways, these side-story chapters were inevitable: after doing years of research, and attempting to draw both servants and gentry as characters, not just stereotypes, there were details and inspirations that just couldn’t be left on the ‘cutting room floor’. The individuals in Mori’s manga demanded more, and thankfully, she (and her editors) thought enough of the original books to actaully write down many of these stories.

In particular, I feel Arthur & Henry’s life at Eton, their rivalry, and eventual role as Prefects would make an excellent spin-off manga (if we could get Mori off of her maid fetish long enough to draw it)

While the ‘original run’ of Emma is already 2 1/2 years old (by US reckoning) these last three volumes are all less than a year old (at time of posting). Volume 10 only released about 4 months ago.

For many of us, who believed the rather prominent “THE END” on page 264 of volume 7

getting any new Emma at all has been a pleasure. I have some other thoughts about both the ending of volume 7, and volume 10, but that is of course the topic of the next Daily Diary post.

To pick a favourite side story, though… well, that’s almost obvious: Vol 9, Chap 8, “On Wings of Song”

Click here for the archive of all Emma Manga Moveable Feast links



Emma MMF: Michelle Smith

filed under , 21 March 2010, 11:02 by

Michelle Smith at Soliloquy in Blue comes in just under the wire with her take on vols 1-2 of Emma:

“More than any other non-shojo series, Emma is the one I most frequently see being mistaken for shojo. It’s easy to see why: it’s a low-key love story between a lovely and graceful maid and the liberally minded son of a wealthy merchant family. When we first meet Emma and William, she is working in the home of his former governess, Mrs. Kelly Stownar, whom he’s been very remiss in visiting.”

Click here for the archive of all Emma Manga Moveable Feast links



Emma MMF: Eva Volin & Robin Brenner

filed under , 21 March 2010, 10:21 by

There have been all sorts of things delaying and prolonging the Manga Moveable Feast, (almost all of them personal and I don’t think most of you care) but I am most pleased the ‘official’ end was put off long enough that I’m able to point you to this piece:

Eva Volin at Good Comics for Kids posts a dialogue she had with Robin Brenner about the series, about it’s suitability for teens and for library collections, and about it’s overall appeal: to teens, to adults, for casual readers and for manga fans.

Eva: I think what Emma has been successful in doing is converting casual manga readers into lifelong manga readers. Both male and female readers have asked me about Emma because they’ve heard about it from a friend. Or they’ve stumbled across it while browsing the collection and been attracted to its sophisticated look. You’re right, it is less visually intimidating, but it is in no way simple or easy. The reader has to have his or her brain engaged while reading Emma to be able to see beyond the basic romantic storyline.

Robin: Very good point! Emma is a wonderful series for readers graduating from the stereotypical fare — the time it takes to absorb and appreciate Emma fully certainly exemplifies the strengths of the format and the diversity that manga has. I love startling people when they realize that such an intense, detailed Victorian romance was actually created in Japan.”

Click here for the archive of all Emma Manga Moveable Feast links



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