Okay, okay. There's also a new and unsettling installment in The Chronicles of William Bazillion!
And, of course, an Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event!
A couple of weeks back, I put out a call for reader OMFs. I got so many great responses that I've had to split them into at least two posts, so tune in next week for more manga. And now, without further ado, obscure and forgotten manga recommended by readers...manga overlooked even by me...
Reader OMFs, Part One
Andrew Cunningham (easternstandard)
Patlabor is one of Viz's early failures; they did two volumes and stopped just before the plot kicked in. From volume three on there is no filler at all; one long tightly plotted story that keeps all the charm and humor of the characters mingled in well with a fantastically entertaining villain.
A Patch of Dreams--A college girl begins to revisit the fantasy world she spent time in as a child, visiting it in her dreams. Incredibly imaginative work that uses the fantasy elements to tell a much more adult story.
Gintama is, for my money, the funniest manga coming out in English. The high concept--aliens have invaded old Edo, mingling samurai and sci-fi technology--seems to be the perfect framework for Hideaki Sorachi to tell any story he wants. He can freely abandon the short comedic stories for much more dramatic arcs, and then transition back to comedy without missing a beat. But it's the nature of the humor that really makes it special; Gintama is everything Shonen Jump manga aren't. It directly flaunts all the rules and themes shonen manga are supposed to stand for, with characters that are lazy, cynical, self-serving, and entirely mean-spirited. And unbelievable funny.
Muhyo and Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation--A horror manga that could have been entirely carried by Yoshiyuki Nishi's amazing monster and spell designs, but he actually develops a massively epic storyline a few volumes in.
Alive--Shonen fighting manga where everyone has a clearly defined psychic ability are a dime a dozen, but few of them start out as mind-fuck horror, or proceed so quickly. There's very little wasted space, and the art is some of the best the genre has ever seen.
Princess Resurrection--A flamboyant romp through every type of horror movie in turn...I dunno, it's just too much fun to ignore. I suppose I should call anything with a panty-flashing schoolgirl vampire a guilty pleasure, but the book is just too well done to feel guilty about.
The three manga that I think should be featured include Antique Bakery, Tramps Like Us, and Happy Mania.
I know Antique Bakery has been featured by the guest columnists on OMF and in the "Great Moments in Manga Baking" piece, but I think it should get it's own standalone entry. It's a great "gateway drug" into cooking manga and, to an extent, yaoi. Not to mention, it's not constant cooking battles, has an underlying, serious plot, and entertains in a way that many manga fail at. Plus, it's got scratch-and-sniff covers!
Of course, I've come to love Moyoco Anno's art through Happy Mania. Granted, the story at times is frustrating and makes you want to wring the lead character's neck, but it does something that few manga do--it makes you feel. So what if it's aggravation and, at times, disappointment and cynicism? In the end, the characters come full circle and the reader feels closure emotionally.
Lastly, Tramps Like Us is what got me into josei (women's manga) in the first place. I used to happily (and ignorantly) consume only shonen manga, loving the action and the storylines. Besides, Bleach, Death Note, Inuyasha, et. al are/were flooding the market. But Tramps Like Us showed me the light--that you could have humor, an interesting love triangle, ass-kicking women, and a realistic portrayal of a woman's role in the workplace. Anyway, I'm sad that this series is finally ending, but I know it doesn't really have anywhere else to go after the final volume. Thank goodness for "Walkin' Butterfly" and "Suppli"!
Well, that's it for my OMF lobbying! I hope you'll consider sharing some of these little gems with your readers. :)
Halfling Rogue (halfling_rogue)
King of Bandit: Jing is a two-part series by Yuichi Kumakura that follows the adventures of Jing, the teenaged (presumably, no age is ever given), self-proclaimed King of Bandits. His partner, Kir, is a talking albatross that attaches to his arm to fire a powerful energy blast called Kir Royale. He has stolen, among other things, the heart of greed, an orb that can trap people in a dream world, the brain of God, and the world's biggest grave. Interested yet?
The series starts off in an old-fashioned, Toriyama-ish style of art, but the content isn't even remotely Toriyama like. That sand whale you see is one of the more normal characters you'll see in the series--the characters are all wonderfully surreal, and completely normal to the place, yet Jing makes witty puns on whatever we'd consider 'unusual' at any given opportunity. There are seven books in the original half of the series, and then there is Twilight Tales, where the art takes an incredible and dramatic leap. Kumakura's style matures dramatically, and he makes amazing use of his skill, using chiaroscuro to great effect, incredible detail, a wonderful angular take on perspective, and stunning colour.
Every arc (there's typically one per book, although sometimes they overlap or run for two volumes) has a Jing girl, a treasure to steal, and some kind of authoritative opposing force. You never see anything from one arc in another, with the exception of the heart robot, the cat mascot, and Postino, a postman who travels everywhere in the world and shows up to give Jing advice or assistance in times of trouble (this is more common in the anime, where he shows up just about every episode, than in the manga, where he only shows up three times--each time in one of the arcs associated with Jing's childhood). Every location is themed and vastly different from one another, and the Jing girls have enough variety to keep them interesting--although, of course, each and every one falls in love with Jing. Nearly every single character and place name is named after an alcoholic drink (Jing was actually supposed to be Gin, but they changed the spelling so that people wouldn't be confused about the pronounciation).
There's a lot more to say about the series, but it's better to see for yourself; I have a number of scans up here and scans and a plot transcript for the seventh volume of Twilight Tales here.
I have yet to meet someone who's read Jing that doesn't like it, but unfortunately not many people have read it. It can be hard to get into, with confusing visual events (one of Kumakura's biggest flaws is that he doesn't quite seem to know how to draw sequential action scenes, and the high contrast can render important details easy to overlook or even downright invisible) and strange stories with unconventional plots (I've found myself rereading several pages just to figure out what was going on), but it's certainly well worth the effort. The anime is well done too, with the OVA being particularly impressive.
I certainly enjoy the series, and am jealously possessive of all my volumes, which I foist onto my friends at any given opportunity in an attempt to earn converts. Mostly, though, I just like reading them, and it's one of the series that I can read over and over again and pick up new and insightful details each time--there seems to be no end to the sheer amount of content Kumakura put into his work, and there's always something new to be derived from the art or the dialogue. Even if you don't review the series, I hope you'll give it a read yourself, and that you'll enjoy it as much as I do. :)
Provided you don't get enough suggestions (although I'd be surprised if that was the case), I'd also recommend:
-Zombie Powder by Tite Kubo (Viz, 4 volumes). Much better than Bleach. A crazy Western-set series where the main character has a metal arm and fights with a chainsaw sword in a country where everyone else uses guns. Gamma's out to find the Zombie Powder, which can bring the dead to life or make the living immortal. Some interesting themes, and less stylized than Bleach.
-Land of the Blindfolded (</i>Mekakushi no Kuni</i>) by Tsukuba Sakura (CMX Manga, 9 volumes). A shoujo manga about three teenagers who have the power to see into either the past (Arou) or the future (Namiki, Kanade) with various strength, and the problems this brings them. It shares some themes with Fruits Basket in terms of societal rejection and finding the inner good in people (Kanade is about as optimistic as Tohru), but LotB is far less saccharine, and both the characters and the artwork feel more "real." They have normal kid problems and interests and habits, same as regular teenagers, and Kanade isn't perfect or overdone (although that's a little less evident in the initial volumes). Very enjoyable.
-Forbidden Dance by Hinako Ashihara (Tokyopop, 4 volumes). Another shoujo manga about a girl obsessed with ballet, and her determination to get into an all-boys' troupe so that she can dance with a boy named Akira. Not quite as troperiffic as it might sound--Aya is very hardheaded and doesn't even notice the first time around that the troupe is all guys. She's very realistic, getting angry and offended and dismal about homework, having to deal with her personal case of stage fright and Akira's unreasonable demands. The art is unique and flowing, which lends well to the active dance scenes. Ashihara really did her homework (and there's ballet exercises in the back of the books!).
-Qwan (6+ volumes, 4 translated) or Suikoden III by Aki Shimizu (Tokyopop). I have absolutely fallen in love with everything Aki Shimizu has done, blown away by his amazing artwork and story writing. Suikoden III has an incredible story, rife with believable character development, intriguing political situations, and unexpected developments. The characters are expressive and detailed, and you really get a feeling for being drawn into the action. I loved the manga so much that I went out and hunted down the video game--and was actually sorely disappointed, because the game isn't really that good. So, uh, don't do that. But the manga! The manga is really good!
Qwan is unfinished and harder to follow because it uses a lot of Chinese mythology and history, and it's hard to keep the names straight if you're not familiar with it. But it's just as worth it as Jing is--the characters are zany and perfectly serious about it. Qwan and the courtesan Shaga are sucked into a spirit dimension at one point where everyone has facial hair--and those who don't can be summarily executed, so you get to see Qwan and Shaga with fake moustaches the whole time, facing a very real threat if they're discovered. The demons are some of the most unique and realistic I've ever seen (I especially like the human-headed tiger) and the plot is fascinating.
Okay, Shaenon here. Whew...thanks very much to Andrew, Lorena and Halfing Rogue. Next week: more reader OMFs!
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
Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga, Part Two
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service