In this week's Li'l Mell, Old Sergio makes a very, very dumb move.
And in this week's Smithson, we finally get some damn romantic tension. Sorry about the black and white; color will follow shortly.
By the way, if you enjoy any of these comics, and you write or draw a webcomic (as who doesn't?), please consider nominating them in the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards. The nomination round is going on now. Go! Nominate webcomics!
With all that said, I regret to announce that, once the current chapter ends, Smithson will be going on hiatus for a while. Brian is expecting a kid and needs to focus on paying work, something I can certainly appreciate, and Smithson doesn't make a silver dime. I haven't decided yet what to do with Smithson, but I do have a lot more of the story to tell. I mean, a LOT. It's kind of ridiculous.
Also, in a few weeks I'm planning to put the Overlooked Manga Festival on hold too. I think I'm finally nearing the end of the list of obscure manga I really like and can get copies of (which is why I haven't done Daigo of Fire Company M, incidentally--believe it or not, the Viz offices are missing a whole bunch of volumes). But I know there are still plenty of overlooked manga out there. That's why I've decided to turn to you, the reader, for the final OMF. If you have a favorite obscure and little-loved manga that I haven't talked about yet, write up a brief recommendation and send it to me at narbonic at sbcglobal.net. I'll run all the Reader OMFs on the last week.
After that, I dunno, maybe I'll get drunk and watch more "Star Trek."
Okay, Overlooked Manga Festival time!
Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event:
Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga, Part Two
6. Short Program
Like so many old Viz manga, this two-volume collection of short stories has a weird publishing history. The stories first ran in Animerica Extra, one of Viz's many now-defunct manga anthology magazines. Volume 1 came out in 2000. It went out of print, everyone forgot about it, and then Viz put out Volume 2 just a year or two ago. Go figure. Anyway, both books are really good. Mitsuru Adachi is a gifted and prolific artist probably best known in Japan for the baseball/relationship manga Touch, which I'd really like to see translated. I like short manga, which I realize may be an acquired taste, but what the hell. These are sweet little slice-of-life stories with nice, Takahashi-esque 1980s artwork. I admit to being a sucker for 1980s artwork.
For the record, I almost filled this slot on the list with the dystopian sci-fi downer Grey, featuring an introduction by Harlan Ellison because at one time the editors thought that sort of thing would help. I still love you, Grey.
7. Dance Till Tomorrow
This manga was too good for America. There, I said it and I'm glad. In many ways, Dance Till Tomorrow is almost too smart to be a manga: it's cheerfully cynical, it's self-aware, there's real sex (albeit with the naughty bits whited out in that weird way that Japanese censors apparently think is less distracting than just drawing in a big old cock), and the characters feel real and unforced.
The plot: clueless college kid and avant-garde theater aficianado Suekichi stands to inherit a fortune in rare stamps from his grandfather once he (Suekichi, that is) gets out of school and settles down. The morning after the reading of the will, Suekichi wakes up entangled with a strange and difficult woman named Aya, who just happened to discover his manly beauty and charm at the exact moment he mentioned he was worth 450 million yen. She's obviously into him for his money, he's obviously into her for her body, and yet this does make their relationship any less complicated.
And does Naoki Yamamoto ever pile on the complications. The first two volumes are especially amazing, a comedy balancing act of money, sex, and power in which one of the two leads always has something the other one desperately needs (sometimes Aya's the one with the money, and Suekichi's the one with the sex). Later, Yamamoto gets away from the central premise, adding gangsters with hot handguns and elaborate seducers scheming to break up Suekichi and Aya for Suekichi's own good, but whatever. Yamamoto is awesome at creating little character details that are both unique and utterly familiar, which is why characters sometimes walk around wearing a giant paper-mache frog mask. And Aya is a fantastic character who turns out to be far more than just a hot young golddigger--although she's that, too.
Yeah, more Tezuka. Not only that, but the first Tezuka manga translated into English! Viz tried to do it up all classy, publishing Adolf direct to graphic novel form before Tokyopop made it cool, including a scholarly essay by a different manga expert in every volume, and publishing it under the Cadence Books imprint, its now-defunct line for prose books, to impress upon people that this wasn't just a comic--this was Serious Literature. Anything with Hitler has to be serious, right?
Of course, it really is just a comic. Against the historical backdrop of World War II and the years immediately before and after, Tezuka stages a story that's pure pulp action. He can't help it. But it's good pulp, and the historical setting is really well done, especially some of the scenes in WWII-era Japan. Tezuka set chunks of the story in his home province of Kobe, and you can tell that he grew up in this world.
The plot involves "three men named Adolf": two boys who grow up as friends in Japan but ultimately become enemies on opposite sides of WWII, and the other Adolf, the famous one, who made them turn out that way. The story is told from the viewpoint of a Japanese journalist who gets drawn into the drama of the Adolfs while pursuing a story that could destroy Hitler's career, if only he can break it in time. Weirdest detail: recurring Tezuka "star system" character Acetylene Lamp has a supporting role as Herr Lampe, head of Nazi intelligence. It's jarring to see him in a crude, cartoony early Tezuka manga like Lost World and then in this, like following up a "Bosom Buddies" marathon with Saving Private Ryan.
Fun fact: the photo covers for Adolf were made using Viz employees and their friends as models. The dead geisha on the above cover was my supervisor when I started work there.
9. Love Song
Man, Viz translated a bunch of Keiko Nishi stories for a while there. Thank you, Matt Thorn! Nishi has half the stories in Four Shojo Stories, mentioned last week, and gets this all-Nishi anthology all to herself. I wish Viz, or anyone, would publish more of her work. It's amazing stuff: smart shojo/josei manga about lonely people looking for love, all beautifully drawn.
The title story, about an abusive relationship between a self-sacrificing young man and a woman who has what might charitably be described as problems getting close to people, is one of the best and most painful short comics I've ever read. The rest of the collection is good, too. There's a slightly tongue-in-cheek Victorian horror story, a lengthy story about a schoolboy who develops healing powers and is exploited by a con artist, and an introspective sci-fi story about a shy factory girl in a space colony. All good stuff. Why doesn't more smart, satisfying manga like this get published? I mean, aside from the fact that it doesn't sell?
10. A, A'
This is one of the first manga I ever read, and it's still one of my favorites. It may even be my very favorite. Moto Hagio is one of the all-time greatest manga creators, part of the nebulous group of shojo artists called "The Fabulous Forty-Niners" or "The Year Twenty-Four Group" (depending on which calendar you're using) who revolutionized manga in the 1970s. She mostly does moody, symbolism-heavy sci-fi and fantasy stories involving troubled family relationships, weird gender issues, and the difficulty humans have in connecting to one another. She also drew one of the very first shonen-ai manga, "The November Gymnasium," for which contribution alone she (along with Keiko Takemiya) deserves the eternal devotion of fangirls everywhere.
But for some reason her work available in official English translation is limited to this book, the short story "They Were Eleven" collected in Four Shojo Stories, and the very short story "Hanshin," which ran in the all-shojo issue of The Comics Journal a couple of years back. What is up with that?
Anyway, A, A' (pronounced "A, A-Prime") is a collection of three stories set in the same sci-fi universe. All three stories involve the Unicorns, a race of mathematically gifted, emotionally limited, semi-autistic humans genetically engineered for space exploration. In the first story, a Unicorn woman is killed in an expedition and replaced by a clone implanted with her memories; the other two stories involve Mori, a young telekinetic who falls in love with a Unicorn girl and later with a Unicorn boy. This book blew my mind when I read it in college; it was so radically different from any other comic I'd ever read, and the stories were fantastic, like good sci-fi from the 1970s New Wave era. Unfortunately, not a lot of the many, many manga I've read since then have lived up to that early mind-blowing.
But hope springs eternal, and I keep reading manga. Thank you, old Viz manga, for warping my life and career forever!
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
Guest OMF by Jason Thompson: 888
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Flower of Life
OMF Special Event: Top Ten Lines from the Excel Saga manga
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part One
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part Two
Comics Underground Japan
Bambi and Her Pink Gun
Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga, Part One