Thursday, April 2, 2009

Trade Waiting - Introduction to Manga

A little while back I took the manga plunge and picked up several manga trades. In the past I read a hilarious, yet informative, manga called Japan, Inc for my Modern Japanese History class in college, but, for the purpose of this post, I shall ignore it in favour of the traditional manga I picked up.

First, I'm going to give some general impressions about manga based on what I've read so far before getting into the reviews for the books I've checked out so far. I have five manga in my initial batch - the first volumes for Eden: Its an Endless World, Monster, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Berserk, and Black Lagoon. The reviews are going to be shorter than usual since some of the stuff I would discuss in the reviews is going to be covered with my thoughts on manga in general.

Also, if you have suggestions for manga I should try out feel free to make them. Hit the jump for the reviews.

Thoughts on Manga In General

I guess I'll start with the obvious first. I prefer coloured comics to the traditional black and white manga format, but I'm not going to let that stop me from reading black and white comics. However, the digest size of the manga I read did hurt some of them, specifically the ones with multiple action scenes. They generally looked cramped and messy and don't particularly follow well at times. Other than that, the smaller size didn't really affect my enjoyment of the manga.

One thing that stood out to me is that the creators seem to be able to convey a lot more on the pages than some American artists. The page layouts are a lot different as well and seem to try to put the most on to the page, which I like, but it took a little time to get used to. They also seemed to be a lot more free in their writing. I'm pretty sure there are several reasons for this, one being that there are a bazillion types of a manga, each with their own target group. There is also a huge variety of subjects and stories being told and some quite imaginative ones at that from the little I've seen. That said, on with the reviews!


Written by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Art by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Concept by Gainax
Adaptation by Fred Burke and Carl Gustav Horn

The Neon Genesis Evangelion anime is one of my favourites, along with Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in The Shell, so I figured it was a good place to start with my introduction to manga. NGE is about a teenage boy, named Shinji, whose father runs a UN agency named NERV, whose job it is to project humanity in a future on the brink of apocalypse from beings know as Angels. To do this, they use giant, living robots known as Evangelions. It's a sci-fi tale with pseudo-religious trappings that make it stand out from the crowd, even after all these years since it was originally published.

The book basically follows the first two episodes of the anime, but, as with most book/movie comparisons, there are some differences. It's mostly just more detail in the manga, but one scene does take something of a radical departure from the anime. As I don't know if or how it will effect the book in the long run, I won't go into too much detail about it. Some of the action scenes had the problems I mentioned above in my general thoughts on clutter, while other pages faired better.

Storywise, the manga sets up the basic premise and introduces most of the cast in this opening volume. However, Shinji is only one who gets any real focus. Overall, there isn't much content to be found here, but, what is here, is good enough to carry the story. Most characters and ideas get some quick intros and the basics of the series are given as well. It is very much like the first issue of a book from Marvel or DC in that regard.

Verdict - Check It. A solid opening chapter that introduces many of the basics of the series.

Written by Kentaro Miura
Art by Kentaro Miura
Adaptation by Jason DeAngelis

A medieval fantasy book with loads of violence. It's about Guts, who is on some sort of revenge quest against some person, group or thing that seemingly cursed him. I say 'seemingly' because it isn't made quite clear at this point.

The story is divided into three parts: Guts going to a town and killing a lot people as part of his revenge mission, Guts on his way to another town and Guts arriving at said town where he, again, starts killing people as part of his mission.

As you can guess, Berserk involves lots of killing, to its detriment. There are two reasons for this: 1) there is not enough plot to go with it and 2) the art doesn't really work for me. None of it is clear enough to be engaging in its own right and the lack of a more indepth plot hurts the book since the art isn't good enough to carry the book on its own.

Guts, himself, isn't that interesting of a character either. He's not a nice a guy, a sociopath in fact, but there are attempts to humanize him throughout the story which didn't really work for me. It is trying to have it both ways, but you lose the appeal of both sides in the process. This is done with an elf named Puck, who seems incredibly out of place the book. The clash of tones really does hurt the book, but it wouldn't be as damaging were it not for the other problems mentioned above.

Verdict - Avoid It. None of Berserk is particularly bad but it just doesn't work for me.

Written by Naoki Urasawa
Art By Naoki Urasawa
Adaptation by Agnes Yoshida and Satch Watanabe

Monster is a suspense thriller book about a neurosurgeon named Kenzo Tenma, the star surgeon of a prestigious hospital in Germany. He's on his way to becoming the head of the hospital until he makes the choice to save the life a young boy over the influential mayor and gets demoted afterward.

The story revolves around a series of events in the life of Tenma, including several murders, as someone systematically removes all obstacles in Tenma's life, allowing him to reclaim his status and position at the hospital.

Tenma's character is the best thing in the book. He's a great character and Urasawa does a fantastic job bringing him to life. It's also one of the better flowing and plotted manga I've checked out, a lot of which has to do with the panels and page layouts. They are some of the best of I have seen to date.

Urasawa does an incredible job creating and using the tension in the story to great effect. A lot of this has to do with the way he frames certain aspects of the story. Another way it works is that the story seems mundane at times, which is not to say boring, so when something happens it really stands out from the rest of the story.

Verdict - Check It. Although a lot of the individual parts of the story are quite good, they don't add up to their full potential but Monster still worth a read.

Written by Hiroki Endo
Art by Hiroki Endo

The best way that I think I can describe Eden is as a philosophical post-apocalyptic story. There is a super virus that wipes out most of the human race, but there is not that much global devastation, which is usually involved in these types of stories, so it's a lighter post-apocalyptic story than the typical offerings.

The story is divided into two parts - a post-event time period, set shortly after the super virus, and a twenty years later period. The first part also has some flashbacks that deal with the events that lead to the current disaster, but mostly focuses on three survivors.

The book deals with a lot of issues about humanity and the effects of surviving something like the end of the world has on a person. As such, it's a character driven book and all of the characters are generally well rounded. Also, since there are so few of them, they manage to each get a decent amount of face time.

Verdict - Must Read. Eden is probably not going to be something most people would enjoy or look at but it is an enjoyable and intriguing tale.

Written by Rei Hiroe
Art by Rei Hiroe
Adaptation by Dan Kanemitsu

Black Lagoon is like Die Hard in the sense that it has action, characterization and plot without sacrificing one for the other.

It's about a group of mercenary couriers in the South Pacific - Dutch,the leader, Benny, a computer genius/hacker, Revy, the gun toting heroine, and Rock, an ex-Japanese salaryman that gets caught up with Revy and Dutch's adventures.

All of the characters are generally introduced and expanded upon throughout this opening volume, although Benny does get the short end of the stick, marking him as more of a supporting character at this point. There are other supporting characters as well, but only one or two really get any attention and aren't worth commenting on at this point in time. Perhaps in later volumes they are expanded upon.

Much like Neon Genesis Evangelion, I picked up Black Lagoon because I've seen parts of the anime and enjoyed it. Black Lagoon details their series of misadventure in the criminal underground.

Obviously, this involves a lot of action and, unlike Berserk, Black Lagoon works as an action comic since the art is better and the physical size of the book is actually larger than the regular digest size. The scenes generally flow nicely, even though Hiroe chooses some odd layouts at times, and it is clear, for the most part, engaging and energetic.

There is also some depth in the story to be found here, primarily in the characters. The plot itself is kind of filler at times, similar to the earlier episodes of Cowboy Bebop, which focused on introducing the characters with action episodes, but there are some decent stories to be found here. Finally, the kind of immaturity usually found in these types books is thankfully lacking as well.

Verdict - Must Read. A fast paced action romp through the seedy underworld of Southeast Asia with plenty of guns, explosions, violence and even some humor.

Like these reviews? Interested in these books? Purchase Neon Genesis Evangelion, Berserk, Eden: It's an Endless World, Monster or Black Lagoon from and help support The Weekly Crisis!

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Klep said...

I highly recommend Ghost in the Shell. GitS explores themes of the nature of life and reality, and what makes us us. It's always one of my favorite bits of media regardless of whether it's the manga, anime series, or movies.

Battle Angel Alita is also a wonderful manga that I can't recommend enough. I'd write more, but I'm in a meeting.

Anonymous said...

Ive only read the scanlations of Beserk, but you should probably give it another chance. Its truly an amazing manga once it gets into the flashback sequence, which makes up a huge part of the story and gets away from the earlier gore saturated opening sequence (there's still a lot of X-Force-like violence, but also actual story in this).

Black Lagoon is another great series, but starts kind of slow. Doesnt really pick up until Balaika and Hotel Moscow start playing a bigger role.

Frank said...

I'd also recommend Claymore, really excellent manga and anime. The linework in the manga is beautiful while the story is creepy and action packed.

Eric Rupe said...

Klep - Ghost in the Shell is already on my list of manga to get. The anime is definitely one of favorites but the only reason why I haven't bought it yet is because of the price point.

Anonymous - I may check out more of Berserk down the road but huge number of volumes out, somewhere around 30, is something of a deterent.

I also have already read the second volume of Black Lagoon and I should get the third volume some time this week.

Andrenn said...

Nice post, but i myself fell out of the manga/anime scene a while back. the only anime series nowadays that I still really like is Detective Conan and I've been lazy about getting all the new volumes out. there's like 100 volumes out since i last picked up a copy.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I'd recommend Blade of the Immortal, though like Berserk it has a large number of volumes out already (around 20). Hiroaki Samura uses an amazing mix of pen and pencil techniques, and his story and characters are complex and memorable.

mugiwara said...

Nice to read manga critics in Weekly Crisis!

Evangelion is one of the few anime adaptions that do not suck. The fact that Sadamoto is the character designer of the anime helps a lot. He managed to stay close to the anime while adding some little things (especially toward the end where Kaoru is more developped than is the anime). Of course, it lacks of Gainax' fantastic story telling but it's still an exellent manga.

I read Berserk#1 something like 10 years ago and like you was not impressed at all. But all the positive critics make me curious. I may give it another try when I'll have enough time and money. But the thing is that it seemed similar to Hokuto no Ken, which I don't like at all.

Monster is a excellent manga, but I desagree with you about Tenma. Most of the time, I find him boring and too perfect, like if he was Gandhi and Mother Theresa's so). I think the personality (and the design) of the inspector Runge is far more interesting.

Eden was one of my favorite mangas. I had to stop it years ago for some resaons and have yet to pick it up again. Awesome art, awesome character, good story, suspense, surprises, sadness, sex, violence...
But I think that the one thing that stops me frop buying it again is that I grew kinda tired and sick of the repetition of this pattern:
1) Endo portrays an awesome, very human character
2) I come to like this charater very much
3) this character is gutted and/or shooted and/or raped and/or dismembered and/or (add some horrible way to die)

Black Laggon is very good, indeed. I wouldn't give him a "must read", but it's a fun action manga with solid art and solid writing.

Max said...

I've read these complete mangas:
-Akira: Stunning. Brilliant. Among the best things I've ever read.
-Lone Wolf and Cub: Impressive craftmanship, but overrated IMO.
-Crying Freeman: Nice artwork, slight story.
-Sanctuary: A very clever masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Berserk is fantastic after the third volume through. At the very least I would recommend you to read the scanlastions before giving up on it completely

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