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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
23rd-Aug-2007 09:27 am

Color coming soon. And come on, who doesn't enjoy being the victim of sitcom-style romantic plotting?

And, as usual, you must not miss the latest in The Chronicles of William Bazillion!

I'm going to be a guest at the Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland on September 29 and 30. Other, more impressive guests include Mike and Laura Allred, Carol Lay, Peter Bagge, Ted Rall, Sarah Oleksyk, and Matt Wagner. Visit me there and alleviate my terrible, terrible loneliness!

Okay, Overlooked Manga Festival time!

This week, let's go old-school.

Katsuhiro Otomo is hardly an overlooked manga artist. His magnum opus, Akira, is one of the most popular and influential manga of all time, almost synonymous with "manga" both here and in Japan. But I've got a soft spot for this one-volume early work, where he plays with the elements with which he would later go totally hog-wild in Akira. Otomo's manga output is fairly small; to quote from Jason Thompson's Manga: The Complete Guide, "he probably realized that he didn't need to draw another Akira, since everyone else was going to try to draw it for him." Instead, Otomo moved on to animation, producing films like the recent Steamboy, and leaving manga fans with a handful of series, only three of which--Domu, Akira, and the disappointing The Legend of Mother Sarah--have been published in English.

Domu, originally published from 1980-1982, is one of Otomo's early manga, and it's got that gritty late-seventies/early-eighties adult manga look. But before you hate on it for looking old, remember that the main reason it lacks the stylistic flourishes of later action manga is because Otomo hadn't personally invented them yet. Actually, it kind of has the feel of a late-night TBS movie, with overworked cops, cheap apartments, and creepy things happening at night. But much better special effects.

A huge, impersonal apartment complex is plagued by accidents and suicides, so many that the police are starting to get suspicious. But there's a couple of things the cops are too slow to realize. One is that the deaths are the work of a powerful, insane psychic who lives in the building and floats around messing with people's minds. The other is that the psychic is the innocent-looking, senile Old Man Cho, who's been a little odd ever since his family up and left him--kind of in a hurry, now that people come to think about it.

We learn about Mr. Cho's murderous antics early in the story, but the neighbors and the police are baffled. One detective gets the idea that something supernatural is at work, but what? We get a lot of scenes familiar to fans of supernatural horror movies (an extremely popular film genre in Japan), like press conferences where the authorities have to admit they have no idea what's going on, and a scene where a professional psychic is brought in to inspect the crime scene and gets totally freaked out.

Then a little girl named Etsuko moves into the building, twigs to Cho right away, and decides that he's been bullying people long enough. Fortunately enough, she happens to be an even more powerful psychic.

Mr. Cho strikes at Etsuko through the residents of the building, and, as the police investigation continues in the background, their conflict builds toward a massive, destructive telekinetic conflict that dominates about half the manga. (Well, massive and destructive by normal, pre-Akira standards, anyway; in '90s manga, a psychic battle doesn't even make the newspapers unless Tokyo gets flattened a couple of times.) The adults in the story are rendered helpless in the face of the battle between the childlike Mr. Cho and the real children allied against him.

Yeah, that's some proto-Akira action going on right there.

I've said this before, but on a purely technical level, the final sequence of Domu is a masterpiece--one of the best pieces of visual storytelling I've ever seen. And it's all the more amazing because the early sections, frankly, aren't all that great. Sure, Otomo's a hell of a draftsman (nobody before or since has poured so much love into grim urban backgrounds), but his pacing is rushed and fragmented; he fails to build emotional power. By the time he comes out the other side of that big psychic battle, he's flickin' Katsuhiro Otomo, in total control of his medium.

These scans are from the old 1994 edition of Domu by Mandarin, but Dark Horse reprinted it a few years ago, so it's not too hard to find. And you can't go wrong with a Dark Horse translation. This is one of those titles that's interesting if you want to see how manga became the art form we all know and love today, but it's also a pretty damn good psychic battle story. And I love that little girl.

Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Dr. Slump
Your and My Secret
Wild Act
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
Banana Fish
Skip Beat
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Cyborg 009
Anywhere But Here
To Terra
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Doing Time
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators
Mariko Parade
Golgo 13
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
Pure Trance
OMF Special Event: My Legacy
OMF Special Event: An All-Star Tribute to Carl Gustav Horn
Guest OMF by Jason Thompson: 888
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Tekkon Kinkreet
Yakitate! Japan
Flower of Life

23rd-Aug-2007 07:02 pm (UTC)
I agree on the ending sequence. Just freaking great, it still sticks in my head and is clear in my mind's eye when you bring it up.

Also, that's yet another OMF pick I own. Wonder if every single obscure manga I own will eventually get picked. :)
23rd-Aug-2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
Man oh man is Domu fantastic; it saddens me a little bit that it's obscure, because it's the sort of manga that everyone should know about.
23rd-Aug-2007 09:45 pm (UTC)
Heh -- you got equal billing with Matt Wagner. Which entertains me quite a bit.

We may be up, depending on how our scheduling works out. C. has a grad school residency in Seattle that Friday, and I don't know if we're going with him or not.
23rd-Aug-2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
I love Domu. It has the single best image of a child's face ever drawn.
24th-Aug-2007 01:19 am (UTC)
I've attended the last two, and fully intended to attend this years Stumptown, as it is all kinds of awesome.

However, it appears that work will likely ship me off to Texas or someplace just in time to miss it this year. I am inconsolable.

I have a sketchbook in which I would have loved to score a SKG original. Also, Kip Manley needs to sell me Chapbook #5. Damn.
24th-Aug-2007 09:07 am (UTC)
Yay, Domu ! A great classic ! It was published in France at the same time as Akira (which was the first manga to be published in France), and was recently reprinted by another publisher, but we never got the great cover you show us here... love it !

I assume you've read this (most particularly the column on the right) ?
24th-Aug-2007 04:16 pm (UTC)

I assume you've read this (most particularly the column on the right) ?

Holy crap, Jenn is a flickin' genius.
24th-Aug-2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
Actually this page is Anne Moloney's contribution.
24th-Aug-2007 05:16 pm (UTC)

Arrgh...why doesn't Anne live down here in San Francisco, where she can entertain me all the time and be my bestest friend? Why?
24th-Aug-2007 01:15 pm (UTC)
Awesome pick, Shaenon. Domu is one of the best comics I've ever read. I've been trying for years to figure out how to rip it off without being caught.
(Deleted comment)
25th-Aug-2007 08:06 am (UTC)

Oh, goodness gracious.

I don't know how I feel about being the voice of a generation that hates Anthony.
29th-Aug-2007 06:02 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth:
I was sitting at my desk browsing fandom_wank when I came across something I thought I'd never see. For Better or For Worse wank.
My interest piqued I clicked on the link to the Anthony hate essay. Good argument, all around. I was intrigued by your ideas and considered subscribing to your newsletter. So, I scrolled up to check out the user info.

Yeah, wow! Blast from the past! You may remember me as mackenzi. For that is my name. I was rather shocked by the randomness of that series of events and had to say something.
To not would be so very wrong.
So-HI! Sounds like you're living your dream. Very cool.
The interweb makes the world very small.
(Deleted comment)
25th-Aug-2007 06:18 pm (UTC)

You're right! Please Save My Earth is the "General Hospital" of manga! The moon ray is like the Ice Princess storyline, and in the sequel they have their very own Lucky. I'm sure Elizabeth Taylor makes a cameo somewhere.

...I've revealed too much, haven't I?
(Deleted comment)
7th-Sep-2007 05:35 am (UTC)
The soundtracks really are very good. I listen to them all the time. I feel the same way, but I still love the comic.
30th-Aug-2007 01:39 am (UTC)
My apologies for suddenly busting in on your journal, but I'd like to say that I've just read all of your "Overlooked Manga" posts, and I love 'em. I've garnered plenty of reading material, now! Thanks so much!

By the way, may I ask where/how you got those scans of From Eroica With Love? Any information will be appreciated.
30th-Aug-2007 02:06 am (UTC)

Um, I scanned them from the books.
9th-Sep-2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
Sorry for the late reply! I have the books, but no scanner, so I was looking for scans to share online. Thankfully, I just found some. Yay!
1st-Sep-2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
Hey Shaenon,

I'm adding you as a friend. I'm looking forward to the Stumptown con. Don't forget to nominate yourself for the Trophy Awards...

see you soon.
26th-Oct-2007 11:32 am (UTC) - [deleted]
12th-Jul-2008 02:15 am (UTC) - Re: The begining
Is it just me, or does that little girl have more than a passing resemblance to Pauline from Heavenly Creatures? Shoot, that's creepy.
I'm putting this thing on my Manga Huntin' List (my library is severely lacking)!
12th-Mar-2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
great, can you post any more domu drawings?

- ober
3rd-Jun-2010 12:49 pm (UTC)
A twisted old man, gifted with extrasensory powers, silently holds sway over an entire block of apartments. The occupants are puppets for him to control. Life is his to give...and to take. But suddenly there is a new voice in his head, and before he knows it, a young girl with her own battery of psychic abilities has arrived to challenge him! Soon, the sprawling complex becomes a battleground between two minds possessing incredible, unimaginable power. Winner of Japan`s Science Fiction Grand Prix award, the first graphic novel ever awarded such an honor, Domu comes from the boundless imagination of Katsuhiro Otomo, renowned creator of the internationally acclaimed graphic-fiction epic, Akira. A work of rare strength, Domu is both visually stunning and emotionally gripping, a terrifying tale of the paranormal set amongst the human isolation of modern urban life.

You can buy Domu manga at manga comics




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