This week's installment is a magic THREE-WAY CROSSOVER between Smithson, Narbonic, and Li'l Mell. Sometimes these things just happen.
In this week's Chronicles of William Bazillion, Andrew has posted the original William Bazillion ur-story, which appeared in one of his minicomics a while back. Time vest!
Okay, let's get down to business with another Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event!
This week, I'm very pleased to present the first guest Overlooked Manga Festival. As regular readers of the OMF have no doubt noted, I read far more manga than is healthy for me. But there's one thing I haven't read, and that's all the manga in the world. Jason Thompson has, or darn near close. Jason is the author of the upcoming Manga: The Complete Guide, a Leonard Maltin-style guide to every manga that has ever been published in English. That's over 1,000 manga series. Most of which are stacked in Jason's apartment. Jason was kind enough to let me write some of the reviews in the guide, and he's been my supplier for many of the more obscure manga featured in the OMF. So before we start, I want to thank Jason for everything he's done for me so far, not to mention everything he'll have done for the glorious cause of manga when his phone-book-sized tome hits the shelves.
Okay! Without further ado, here's the Overlooked Manga Festival with Your Host, Jason Thompson!
Shaenon has written about many awesome overlooked manga, and for a while I wasn't sure what to write...but judging by sales numbers, everything except Naruto is an overlooked manga, so perhaps it's easy to think of titles. Bambi and Her Pink Gun, Pilgrim Jäger (a mess, but an ambitious mess, with great art), the '80s shojo stylings of Cipher and Moon Child, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, old pamphlet comics like Raika and (yes, why not, why don't I just reveal that I like him?) Hiroshi Aro...it's easy to think of good or better-than-average manga which no one talks about. My hat goes off to all manga publishers who work outside the most commercial genres (i.e. teen shojo, teen shonen, yaoi, and just-slightly-dirty moe manga).
The back cover text of 888, by Noriko Kuwata, says it's about a detective agency. This didn't give me high expectations. I'm admittedly jaded from reading too much manga, but when I think of detective manga, I think of dull art (Kindaichi Case Files), dumb plots (Remote), and clichéd angst (Satisfaction Guaranteed, X-Kai, etc.). My favorites are hard-edged seinen [men's] detective stories (MPD Psycho, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service). Quite different, 888 is a shojo-style, self-referential detective comedy. When I put it like that, I think of Kamen Tantei. But 888 is much better. Its strength comes from the fact that it doesn't bother to parody detective manga; in fact, it's really an office comedy, and it hardly has anything to do with detectives at all.
There are three characters. Hisago, the manager of the detective agency, is the kind of manga denizen who is always drawn as a happy chibi with blissfully closed eyes. Nagi, the secretary, is more or less the straight man (woman). Shimeki, outwardly the most serious-looking of the bunch, is the most comic character: his one trait is a deep lover for Kobayashi, his beloved Pomeranian.
The fun is in the execution. In each chapter it looks like the detectives might get some kind of real client or case, but nothing happens. Nagi occasionally worries about their lack of business, but it's okay, because Hisago's dad pays for everything anyway. A little girl asks for help finding a missing cat (this is the kind of thing which would be tedious and lame in any other manga, but which 888 somehow manages to make funny and charming). The ever-lazy Hisago invites them all to a hot springs resort, where miraculously, no clothes come off. Nagi, in the stereotypical office-lady role, complains about the lack of romantic prospects. Shimeki is kidnapped by his ex-wife who forces him to cook her dinner. I would quote some dialogue, but hopefully these scans make the point.
In other words, 888, like Seinfeld, is a manga about nothing. Basically a josei [women's] gag manga, it has the art of a newspaper strip, and a directionless, character-driven atmosphere. It's an improv manga, a skit manga; some of the skits are weaker than others, the last chapters of Volume 1 being a little duller, but at it's best it's great. Unlike many nominally funny manga, Kuwata apparently doesn't feel any obligation to include a "plot" or a "moral" in her strips. Perhaps a plot, properly handled, could have made it even better, like Antique Bakery, whose humor is sometimes approaches. But better no plot than a clichéd one.
So who reads 888 in Japan? Guro freaks, apparently. One curiosity about the manga is that it was originally published in Comic Birz, a dark fantasy/Gothic manga magazine better known for titles like Arm of Kannon, Blood Sucker: Legend of Zipangu, Tatsuya Egawa's Yapoo: The Human Cattle and Benkyo Tamaoki's Tokyo Red Hood. In such company, it's like a Mike Judge movie surrounded by slasher films. (Or perhaps a Charles Schulz comic--how could you not think of Peanuts in the scene when the detectives decide to become relationship counselors, and put a sign on their door that may as well say "Psychiatric Help Five Cents"?)
Of course, humor and horror seem to attract many of the same fans, so perhaps 888 in its original home was the after-dinner mint for Comic Birz's red meat. (Another atypical Birz title, or at least I think it ran in Birz, was the light yaoi mystery Gorgeous Carat Galaxy.)
This charming title has a small fan base--Ed Chavez of MangaCast likes it--but it deserves more. Sadly, DrMaster canceled it after just one volume, and the image quality in the English edition, as you can see from these scans, is pretty bad. (It has that "scanned from tankobon" look, and the tiny text is hard to read.) I only gave it three stars in my book, but it probably deserves three and a half, in retrospect. Well, a half-star margin of error is okay, right?
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Anywhere But Here
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
OMF Special Event: My Legacy
OMF Special Event: An All-Star Tribute to Carl Gustav Horn