Tag Archives: Manga

Blue Spring

bluespringBlue Spring
by Taiyo Matsumoto

Viz Communications

BW, 216 pgs w/ ads
$9.99 US / More in Canada

If you follow any sort of popular culture for any length of time you are likely to find yourself settling into specific genres of styles for periods of time. This is easier to do when your access to genres and styles is limited. I had always heard manga offers a far more wide range of stories then North American comics, mainly because manga is the pop culture mainstream and not a fringe stream like comics in our own country. This certainly may well be the case, but after reading and reviewing English translated manga for a period of years, I have come to realize that while our Japanese brethren are enjoying a full spectrum of manga, we here in North America are getting only a minor segment. Recently, the quirky comedies, mecha, magical girls, beautiful boys and unlikely romances have started to blur together. This is a frustrating state to be in as a reader because you lose sight of moments of originality in each story. It is downright hazardous as a reviewer because you start to lose sight of what makes a good story…well…good. All you start to focus on is how much everything is so similar.

Thank god then for books like Blue Spring, a manga that is so different from anything currently being offered that it snaps you right out of that dangerous mind set with its multitude of unique perspectives in both story and art. Continue reading Blue Spring

Blade of the Immortal volume 1: Blood of a Thousand

Blade of the Immortal volume 1
“Blood of a Thousand”
by Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse Comics
Translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith
BW, 136 pgs
$14.95 US / Higher in Canada

Blade of the Immortal is the story of Manji, a samurai who killed without question on behalf of his master. Realizing his master wasn’t the good guy he thought, Manji assassinates him, a most heinous crime in ancient Japan. Hunted as a criminal, Manji is tired of living and wants to die, but can’t. An old woman has stuffed him full of Kessen-Chu, bloodworms that repair even his most grievous wounds. Manji is immortal and if he is to die, he must slay one thousand evil men.

Blood of a Thousand is the English translation of the first six issues of the manga, Blade of the Immortal. The manga itself first appeared and continues to be published in the Japanese magazine Afternoon. Dark Horse Comics also publishes English versions of the individual issues before collecting them into trade paperbacks.

In this collection, we are introduced to Manji and to the personal demons that compel him in the present. He also meet Rin, an orphan who seeks to revenge the death of her parents at the hands of the Itto-ryu. Together, Manji and Rin begin a journey to hunt down this merciless band of men.

Blood of a Thousand would be little more than a gory action story if not for Hiroaki Samura’s delicate handling of the relationship between Manji and Rin. As a ronin, Manji is a swordsman of high caliber and a man of questionable morals. At times he seems like nothing more than a cynical street punk possessing a gallows humour. And yet, he also shows moments of great philosophical insight and tenderness. Rin is an aspiring swordswoman. She portrays herself as a strong woman ready to take her revenge, but beneath her tough exterior she is still hurting over the loss of her parents. These two damaged souls meet and together they begin a journey of unending violence in an attempt to find peace.

The story unfolds in the second year of Tenmai, which is approximately 1782 – 1783 by Gregorian calendars. Manji may be a masterless samurai, but Hirokai Samura has decided not to steep his tale in historical accuracy and the way of Bushido. Instead, he has created his own arsenal of fantastic weaponry and fighting techniques in order to escape the scrutiny of samurai fanatics. Samura has also used a variety of linguistic styles, alternating between the mannered style of old Japan and street slang more likely to be found in a city of our own time. The result is a tale edged with science fiction and punk sensibilities, a blood-soaked tale of stunning brutality, beauty and passion.

Samura’s elegant artwork alternates between ink and pencil lines. When he is working with the fine point of a pencil, his illustrations are filled with enough detail and atmosphere to transport the reader to ancient Japan. He captures both the frantic energy and brutality of battle with his climatic full-page illustrations, but it is in the quieter moments when Samura really shines. His fine hand invokes, in the reader, a wide range of emotions toward his protagonists, the foremost of which is empathy. (Chad Boudreau)

Manga and Anime – Kindred Spirits

If you’re new to manga and have been researching the subject, you’re likely getting frustrated as your searches keep turning up Web sites dedicated to anime rather than manga. Anime and manga are two peas in the same pod. Many anime are adaptations of manga, and similarly, although less common, some manga are adaptations of anime. comicreaders.com, therefore, has decided to shed some light on anime, exploring its history, its connection with manga and some of the best productions this art form has to offer.

The basics…

Anime is Japanese animation. As defined by its North American fans, anime is simply animation made in Japan. In Japan, however, the word anime is used to denote animation made anywhere in the world. Anime is often incorrectly referred to as a genre. It is, in fact, a medium that includes a variety of genres. Anime, like its counterpart manga, are mainstream media in Japan. Here in North America, anime and manga enjoy a cult following. It should be noted, however, that both are continuing to gain wider recognition in mainstream North American pop culture.

In Japan, anime is released in three ways:

1. TV Shows – often later re-released on video.

2. Theatrical Films – often later re-released on video.

3. OVA – Original Video Animation. These are anime released directly to video. You will often see this spelled OAV in English works.

The beginning…

The 1960s marked the arrival of modern anime. Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “The Father of Modern Manga”, is also responsible for a new age for anime. This modern age begins with his Tetsuwan Atom television series.

The roots of anime, however, lie back in the early 1900s. The earliest Japanese animations were created by film hobbyists. Inspired by the American and European animation pioneers, these Japanese animators created the first three Japanese cartoons. The animations were one-reel endeavors, each somewhere between one and five minutes long. These were created in 1917.

In the 1920s, anime got a little longer in length, now running as long as three reels. A few were imitations of foreign cartoons, but most were dramatizations of Oriental folk tales in traditional Japanese art styles.

During the 1930s, folk tales gave way to Western style animations with fast-paced humour. These gradually, but quickly, started to reflect the growing influence of Japanese militarism. After Japan went to war with China in 1937, animation productions needed to be approved by government censors. This resulted in a stream of propaganda cartoons touting militaristic ideals. Interestingly enough, it was the military that spearheaded the production of Japan’s first animated feature. In 1943, the Imperial military government assembled the team of animators that would produce the 74-minute Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors. This was a juvenile adventure tale that showed the Imperial Navy as brave, cute anthropomorphic animals. It was released in 1945, shortly before the end of WWII.

Individual filmmakers were given the freedom to once again make their own animations once the war was over. Productions were, however, hampered for the next decade by the weakened Japanese economy. Japanese animations also had to compete with the high quality American cartoons pouring into Japan with the Occupation forces. Japanese animators soon realized the future of anime lay in adopting the North American studio system.

Getting ready for modern anime…

The first successful anime production studio was Toei Animation Co., which was organized in 1956. Yasuji Mori directed the studio’s first notable short cartoon called Doodling Kitty, which debuted in 1957. The general public, however, wouldn’t come to know Toei until 1958. It was that year in which Toei released its first anime theatrical feature: Panda and the Magic Serpent. This feature, and the first few that followed it, copied the Disney formula very closely. These anime were even released in the U.S., although a couple of years after they were first shown in Japan. None of these features were a success on Western shores, and so theatrical anime disappeared from America for the next two decades.

One of these feature-length anime, Alakazam the Great, was based on a popular 1950s manga. That comic was by Osamu Tezuka, an adaptation of the ancient Chinese Monkey King legend. Tezuka was Japan’s most popular manga-ka during this period, and since the movie used his plot and visual style, he was consulted on its adaptation. This involvement caused him to switch his attention from manga to animation. Modern anime was about to be born.

Thank you (again), Osamu Tezuka…

Tezuka was now interested in the production of anime. He decided he could produce anime television series for Japan. He also realized the popularity of his manga could very well translate into popular anime. This is a tradition that continues even today. With such a diverse and large amount of manga available, popular manga is usually adapted into anime.

Anyway, Tezuka put together Japan’s first television animation studio. Mushi Productions, as it was called, released its first television series on New Year’s Day 1963. That series was Tetsuwan Atom. Its success was immediate. Soon there were three more television animation studios, and even Toei opened up a television division. By the end of the 1960s, the popularity of television science-fiction and action-adventure anime was overwhelming.

Television animation is much more popular in Japan than it is in North America. The 1960s was the beginning of this trend. Tezuka also brought sophisticated adult animation to movie theatres in 1969. A Thousand and One Nights was an adaptation of Arabian Nights with the eroticism intact. Indeed, over time, Japanese theatrical anime has become some of the highest grossing movies in Japan. Over here in North America, animated features are still considered kiddie fare, but in Japan, anime is enjoyed by all ages. Theatrical anime wouldn’t gain its true mainstream appeal, however, until the 1980s.

The 70s…

Television anime in the 1970s was dominated by giant-robot and outer space adventures. One of the most influential of this style was Toei’s adaptation of the manga Mazinger Z. This was the first series to feature a gigantic flying mechanical warrior controlled by a human pilot. By the mid-1980s, there had been more than forty television anime series based on a giant robot premise. In the late 1970s, these shows would be sub-titled and shown on Japanese community television channels in America, thereby starting the anime cult following in the Western world.

Another popular genre at this time was futuristic outer space adventures. The hottest of these shows was Space Battleship Yamato, which debuted in 1974. There were several Yamato television series and even a number of theatrical sequels.

The 80s…

Anime had been dominated by television productions for two decades by the time the mid-1980s rolled around. It was now time for television anime to move aside. Theatrical anime was about to get an influx of new talent and popularity. The two names most readily identified with this shift are Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.

In the early 1980s, Miyazaki began his manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The popularity of this manga led to a feature film directed by the manga-ka himself. Released in 1985, the feature-length anime was a huge success. This resulted in the creation of a new animation studio called Studio Ghibli. This studio formed to produce the theatrical features of Miyazaki and his friend and collaborator Isao Takahata.

Studio Ghibli would release, on average, a feature a year, alternating between the productions of Miyazaki and Takahata. From Miyazaki, Japan received Laputa: The Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and The Crimson Pig (1992). Takahata released Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991) and Pom Poko (1994). Many of these titles became Japan’s top grossing theatrical films. Takahata’s Pom Poko was submitted as Japan’s candidate for an Academy Awards nominee for Best Foreign Film. Miyazaki would receive a similar honour in 2002, when his Spirited Away anime feature was awarded Best Animated Feature Film.

The 1980s also marked the arrival of another influential anime feature. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira was another smash success for Japan, and when it arrived on North American shores, many eyes were opened to the storytelling and visual power of anime films.

Another remarkable development occurred in the 1980s; the emergence of the home-video market. Beginning in 1984, anime began to be produced especially for home video. The home video market created a glut of anime because its production costs were so much cheaper. Amid all the forgettable pap, however, are true gems such as Patlabor and No Time for Tenchi, which became so popular they spawned their own anime television series and theatrical films. Regardless of where your opinions fall, home video anime is important to note because its sheer volume of titles has opened the doors for many new viewing opportunities. The home video market is the main source for the anime being released in North America today.

The 1990s and beyond…

The 1980s are considered the golden years of Japanese animation. The greatest diversity of anime was being produced during this time because a great deal of money was flowing into the industry. Today, animation in Japan is considered to be in a creative slump by its critics. A common trend these days is the production of home video remakes of anime favourites from the golden eras of the 70s and 80s, adopting the same basic plots, but adding a flashy modern artistic style.

Criticism of anime from the latter part of the 90s and into the 21st century is perhaps a bit jaded, however. Considering the amount of fresh ideas coming out of manga, anime will always have a high quality orchard from which to pick the best apples. It is also worth mentioning that many of the concepts that have grown stale in Japan are still fresh to North American audiences. This accounts for the continuing growth of anime’s popularity in our neck of the woods. The Cartoon Network has really helped put anime in front of the uninitiated, adding many anime series to its programming line-up. This surge of interest on our shores might even eventually result in a new golden era of anime as Japanese animation studios strive to please both Japanese and North American markets.

How to talk to the talk

Manga is a cultural force in Japan, and as it continues to gain a foothold in North America, you might increasingly find yourself overhearing a conversation about one particular manga or another. Like any popular culture phenomenon, manga comes with its own unique set of vocabulary. comicreaders.com has compiled the following list of terms and explanations so you won’t ever find yourself lacking for words in a conversation about manga.

comicreaders.com does not claim to be experts in manga or Japanese culture. You will likely run across variations of spelling, and in some cases, variations of definition, on some of these terms. Like we said, this is manga for beginners. Not manga or Japanese culture for experts.

comicreaders.com may very well add additional terms to this list in future. Feel free to visit as often as you wish.

Anime is Japanese animation. Manga and anime go hand in hand in Japan. Most anime are based on popular manga, although on the rare occasion, a particular series first starts out as an anime and then is adapted into manga. The wildly popular Gundam Wing is such an example.

The majority of the Western world was introduced to anime with the arrival of Akira on our shores. If you’re looking to experience anime for the first time, you can’t go wrong by starting out with Akira. Like manga, anime is created in a wide range of genres and appeals to all ages.

A lot of the highest grossing films in Japan are anime movies. For this reason, the actors who make a living doing voices for anime can amass huge fan followings, much like North American pop or movie stars. Seiyuu is the word for these professionals, a term that encompasses voice actors of anime, drama CDs and video games.

Literally translated, this word means “beautiful boy”. The word is used to describe young men with delicate features that turn up frequently in shojo manga.

This word can be translated as “beautiful man”. This is the older version of bishonen.

Bunko is a publishing format. Bunko is smaller than the popular tankobon format, and measures 6 x 4 inches. This format is often used to publish collected versions of older manga series.This word is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of C.B., which stands for “child body”. Chibi is used to describe the manga practice of drawing truncated, child like, extremely cute versions of adult characters as comic relief. Chibi is also referred to as super-deformed or SD.

This word is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of C.B., which stands for “child body”. Chibi is used to describe the manga practice of drawing truncated, child like, extremely cute versions of adult characters as comic relief. Chibi is also referred to as super-deformed or SD.

Fan Service
Fan service is used to describe titillating elements such as toplessness or panty shots that aren’t necessary to story. These elements are included for the benefit of young male readers.

This is the Japanese for “cute”. The quality of cute is very important in Japanese culture and therefore is a major marketing influence for much manga and anime. You could even say cuteness is a national fixation in Japan. The North American stereotype of manga as “big eyes, big hair” stems from kawaii.

High school girls in Japan are called Ko-gals, which is short for Kokosei (high school) girl. Ko-gals have become quite the phenomenon in Japan in recent years, and apparently are supposed to be the origin of the latest fashion trends. For instance, loose socks have become very popular among Ko-gals. A lot of high schools in Japan have uniforms, and in an effort to maintain some sense of their own fashion amidst their boring school uniforms, Ko-gals have started to wear their knee-length socks around their ankles. Ko-gals appear on TV, magazine and all other sorts of popular media.

Mahou Shoujo
Translated as “magic girl” or “magical girl” and is used to describe any female character that has magical powers while living in a non-magical environment. This term is also used to describe the genre of stories about such girls.

This word is used to describe someone who draws manga…i.e. a manga artist. The word is gender neutral because some of Japan’s most famous manga-ka are, in fact, women. Due to the enormous popularity of manga, manga-ka can become very rich and very famous.

All the mechanical vehicles and gizmos that play a large role in some genres of manga. Mecha can include things like motorcycles, planes and even giant robots and starships.

This is the Japanese word for “house” and was originally used as a polite form of address. Japanese now often use this term to negatively refer to people who are obsessed with manga and or anime that they have difficulty interacting with the real world. I guess this is the Japanese equivalent of the term fanboy, which often carries negative connotations in North American comics circles. On our shores, the term otaku is not used as a derogatory term. Otaku is used here to simply mean someone who is a big fan of manga and or manga.

Screentone is a sheet of clear adhesive material printed with a pattern. Screentone is trimmed to size and affixed to manga illustrations in order to create shading and texture effects.

Literally translated, this word means “Images of Spring”. Shunga are erotic artworks of staggering imagination that were produced with regularity in 18th century Japan. Shunga were available in the form of woodblock prints. Modern day eroticism found in manga and anime can be attributed back to shunga and its celebration of sexuality and sex as a natural part of life. In Japanese culture, there is no concept of Original Sin as there is in the Christian world.

Sweat Drop
You will often see characters in manga and anime with sweat drops on their faces. A sweat drop is used when a character is feeling perplexed, self-conscious, embarrassed or just plain stupid. Sometimes the sweat drop will be small and hardly noticeable and other times many will cover the entire face! Sweat drops are a visual cue that a character is feeling out of sorts. The number of drops can describe just how out of sorts!

This is the pocket-sized paperback publishing format that collects installments of popular manga series. In Japan, manga is published in large anthology magazines, which are too big to easily transport around and take up too much space if you were to save them. So, a reader who enjoys a series can more easily transport and save a series in tankobon form.

Types of Manga

Comics in North America and Japan, although different in form, developed along the same lines until the mid 1950s. It was at this time government hearings crippled the comic book industry in the United States. Dr Frederick Wertham published The Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, a publication that blamed comic books for juvenile delinquency. His book and biased lecturing raised debate in the States, discussions that eventually led to U.S Senate hearings and the creation of the self-censoring Comics Code.

Meanwhile, over in Japan, comic sales continued to rise. That isn’t to say censorship or controversy over manga has never occurred. It has. Controversy and calls for censorship seems to run in cycles in Japan, but it has never crippled the industry as it did in North America.

Millions of kids raised on Osamu Tezuka’s stories were getting older, but were unwilling to give up the pleasure of reading manga. As a result, the typical young boy manga had to evolve with its reader. This led to the creation of manga aimed at teenagers, college students and even adults.

Here in North America, millions of girls read comics up to the 1950s, at which time self-censoring caused publishers to cut the number of titles they were producing. Unfortunately, comics marketed to girls were the first casualties. Today, the predominant readership of comics in the West is male.

In Japan, however, both girls and boys have always enjoyed manga. Just like male readers, female manga enthusiasts were attracted at first to the works of Tezuka and other manga targeted at young children. Manga for girls would evolve into manga for women, although in the 50s and 60s, manga for older women was the equivalent of television soap operas. A lot of young women would pass on these sappy tales and stick to manga marketed to men. It would take another 30 years before women’s manga moved beyond the soap opera. By the 1990s, women could enjoy manga that truly spoke to their reading needs.

In exploring manga here in North America, you will likely come across a number of terms that refer to different types of manga. These classifications typically describe the primary readership to which the manga is marketed, but can sometimes be used to describe the subject matter found within.

This term can be roughly translated as “same stuff, different people.” Doujinshi are unofficial manga produced by fans of the original series. These productions can range from the crudest black and white photocopied pages to stunningly produced volumes that could be sister books to the actual published manga. Creating these amateur publications is a popular hobby in Japan. In fact, some of the established artists creating manga today actually got their start by making doujinshi.

Here in North America, doujinshi are most famous as sexually explicit or erotic parodies of popular manga series. In Japan, however, those kind of doujinshi are just one of many forms.

A literal translation of this term would be “dramatic pictures”. This term is used to refer to more experimental or literary manga, thereby differentiating such manga from the more popular or commercial series.

This is Japanese slang meaning perverted or perversion. When applied to manga, hentai refers to the adult oriented series that depict extreme sexual imagery. The word hentai is often interchanged with ecchi in Japan, but North American’s tend to reserve the word hentai for the most explicit material. Ecchi in the West is used to describe a less sexually hardcore manga.

While we’re talking about hentai, I should mention that one of the most prevalent stereotypes regarding manga is that they always contain graphic sex. Hardcore images do exist in Japan, but this kind of manga makes up only a small niche in the massive manga market.

Redikomi is adult content manga for women. Although redikomi can deal with sexual subject matter, it tends not to be as hardcore as hentai.

Seijin is the male equivalent of redikomi.

The term shojo is used to describe manga marketed to females up to the age 18. These series tend to focus on romance from a young female protagonist’s point of view. Emotions and social interaction play a big part in shojo manga. Shojo manga tries to mirror the lives of their readers. Viz Comics and Tokyopop have released English translations of some good shojo manga, including Moto Hagio’s They Were Eleven, Shio Sato’s Changeling and Nami Akimoto’s Miracle Girls.

Shonen manga is marketed to males up to about age 18, though a lot of older men still enjoy these stories. These series usually focus on action, sports or romance from the point of view of a male protagonist. The extremely popular Dragonball is a perfect example of shonen manga.

I should mention that even though shonen manga is marketed to boys and shojo manga marketed to girls, members of the opposite sex can also enjoy these stories.

This is a very vague classification of manga. Seinen manga is for men between the ages of 15 and 40, and the story genres and subject matter range as much as the ages. Series such as Seraphic Feather, Blade of the Immortal and Lone Wolf and Club would be classified as seinen. Many of the titles being translated and released in North America are seinen.

This is a term you might not hear very often, but I’ve run into it a few times and therefore have decided to include it here. Redisu is the women’s version of seinen, with an equally wide range of genres and subject matter.

Kodomo manga are for very small children who are starting to learn to read. These children will eventually move on to shojo or shonen manga.

Shojo-ai / Yuri
Shojo-ai are manga stories about female/female romantic relationships. In Japan, the term yuri is also used to describe these stories. In North America, however, shojo-ai is used to refer to these types of stories that focus on emotions and relationships. Yuri is used to describe stories that focus more on sex.

Shonen-ai / Yaoi
Shonen-ai means “boy’s love” when translated. This subclassification of manga refers to stories about male/male romantic relationships. Interestingly enough, shonen-ai is popular in Japan among young female readers.

In Japan, the term yaoi can also be used to describe these types of stories. In North America, however, shonen-ai is used to describe male/male relationship manga that focuses more on emotions and relationships than sex. Yaoi is then used to describe stories that focus more on sex.