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The Comics Alternative - Smart Discussions on Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Two guys with PhDs talking about comics! The Comics Alternative is weekly podcast focusing on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics. (There's nothing wrong with superhero comics. We just want to do something different.) New podcast episodes become available every Wednesday and include reviews of graphic novels and current ongoing series, discussions of upcoming comics, examinations of collected editions, in-depth analyses of a variety of comics texts, and spotlights on various creators and publishers. The Comics Alternative also produces "special feature" programs, such as shows specifically dedicated to creator interviews, webcomics, on-location events, and special non-weekly themes and topics.
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Now displaying: Category: manga
Jan 30, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:28 - Introduction
  • 00:02:36 - Catching up for the new year
  • 00:04:19 - Sunny
  • 01:09:40 - Other works by Matsumoto
  • 01:20:29 - Wrap up
  • 01:22:06 - Contact us

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This month on the manga show, Shea and Derek discuss the recently completed, Sunny, as well as other works by Taiyo Matsumoto. Late last year VIZ Media published the six and final volume of Sunny, a series that began in December 2010 in the original Japanese (published in Monthly Ikki), and has been coming out in English translation since the first volume in May 2013. This is a title that the guys have been wanting to discuss for some time, but they decided to hold out until the everything was wrapped up so that they could look at the series in its entirety.

This is a realistic, evenly paced drama about a group of orphans and outsiders residing at Star Kids Home, a foster home that serves as a refuse for children without family or whose parents do not have the means, or even the interest, in caring for them. Although this narrative functions with an ensemble cast, Shea and Derek feel that the de facto protagonist here is Haruo, an angry, troubled kid whose parents remain aloof. The series unfolds as Haruo interacts with the other children at the home, each of whom gets ample attention in the text, and the adults who try to make things manageable for them. The one central refuge in their lives, a space of safety and imagination, is a derelict Nissan Sunny 1200 that sits abandoned in the front yard of the Star Kids Home.

The guys spend most of the episode mapping out the various characters and their struggles in Sunny, but they also take the time to discuss other manga by Matsumoto, including Blue Spring (the original collected in 1993, and translated into English in 2004), Gogo Monster (2000/2009), the untranslated Takemitsuzamurai (2006-2010), and especially the Eisner Award-winning Tekkon Kinkreet, which originally ran from 1993-1994 and was collected as a one-volume English translation in 2007. As Shea points out, this is one of their favorite manga creators -- for both guys -- and they wanted to use this episode to dig deep into his art.

Dec 30, 2016

Time Codes:

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It's the final manga episode of the year, and to close out 2016 Shea and Derek discuss a couple of fascinating new editions of older manga. But first they talk about their holiday activities with one another and then go on to share the listener mail they received about their November manga episode. After that, it's manga time! They begin with Junji Ito's Tomie: Complete Deluxe Edition (VIZ Media). This volume brings together all of the previous Tomie stories, initially released in three separate books. As listeners of the podcast may know, Shea and Derek are big fans of Junji Ito, but this is the first time either of the guys have read this series. They point out both the similarities and the differences between this text (especially the early stories) and later Ito works such as Uzumaki and Gyo. Shea is particularly taken by Ito's early, looser illustration style, while Derek focuses on the, at times, goofy scenarios surrounding Tomie. They're weirder than even the most unusual premises you'll find in Junji Ito.

After that, the guys turn to Tsutomu Nihei's Blame! This series has also been previously published, but now Vertical Comics is releasing it in new master editions. The second volume was just published this month, and volume 3 is due out in March. So Shea and Derek limit their discussion to the story contained within these first two book. This is an action-heavy manga, and while this kind of graphic storytelling isn't one of Derek's favorites, it's something that Shea absolutely loves. But both guys appreciate the incremental world building and especially Nihei's astounding ability in representing The City, the vast post-apocalyptic landscape in which the story takes place. The bottom line is that both guys love the storyworld and plan to continue reading this series.

Nov 28, 2016

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For the month of November, Shea and Derek get together to discuss to two recent manga publications, although the first text they cover is not entirely new. Jiro Taniguchi's A Distant Neighborhood: Complete Edition brings together the two-volume English editions originally published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2009. (The original Japanese was published in Big Comic magazine between 1998 and 1999.) It's the story of Hiroshi Nakahara, a 48-year-old salaryman with an uninspired life, and who finds himself mysteriously transformed -- or transported? -- into his 14-year-old self. This is the same period of his life when his father abandoned his family. The guys discuss A Distant Neighborhood as a quasi-time travel narrative, but definitely not science fiction. In fact, Derek reads this text through the lens of the romance tradition, à la Horace Walpole and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Shea enjoys to story, but he feels that the premise may be a little too loaded and that Taniguchi at times relies too much on telling and not showing.

Next they turn to a very different kind of book, Kodansha Comic's Attach on Titan Anthology. This is similar to a text that the guys discussed last month, Neo Parasyte F, an anthology of new works based on and inspired by a previous manga property, in this case Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan (which began in 2009). However in contrast to the Parasyte homage, this collection is made up of work written and drawn by a variety of Western creators. Although the collection resonates differently with each -- Derek tends to like it, as a whole, better than Shea -- both of the guys can agree on some of the anthology's highlights. These include Ronald Wimberly's "Bahamut"; Asaf and Tomer Hanuka's "Memory Maze"; Rhianna Pratchett, Ben Applegate, and Jorge Corona's "Skies Above"; and Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer's "Attack on Attack on Titan." But really, every contribution to this collection is worth reading. As the guys point out, one of the beauties of this anthology is that its eclectic styles reflect the broad and diverse readership to which Isayama's series appeals.

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Oct 28, 2016

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In celebration of the Halloween season, Shea and Derek devote October's episode to a discussion of horror manga. This month they look at six -- count them, six! -- books, all of which embody the eerie holiday spirit in some way. That makes this a extra-long episode, clocking in at over two and a half hours, the longest manga show the Two Guys have ever produced. They begin with a classic example of horror manga, Hideshi Hino's Hell Baby (Blast Books), and then move on to the medium's most notable practitioner of the genre, Junji Ito and his 2014 collection Fragments of Horror (VIZ Media). They then turn up the creep factor with Usamaru Furuya's Lychee Light Club (Vertical Comics) and Jun Abe's Portus (VIZ Media). Finally, the guys conclude with two brand new titles from Kodansha Comics, Kazuhiro Fujita's The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady, Book 1 and the shojo anthology Neo Parasyte F. The latter is a fifteen-story celebration of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s classic Parasyte series, which ran from 1988 to 1995. In their extensive discussions, Shea and Derek visit such topics as the juxtaposition of cute and gross, why the grotesque may become a writing crutch, the many uses of gender ambiguity, if video games are inherently spooky, and how Florence Nightingale can be quite sexy. That's right, folks, it's all here!

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Sep 29, 2016

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Time Codes:

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It's the end of the month, so that must mean it's time for Shea and Derek to look at another round of manga. For September, they discuss two recent releases, the first of which is Leiji Matsumoto's Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics). Originally serialized in Weekly Shonen Magazine between 1978 and 1979, this is a science fiction adventure with two protagonists. Hiroshi Umino is a fearless earth boy wants to make his own way in life, and the titular character is a mysterious and much-feared figure who sees in Hiroshi a kindred spirit. Matsumoto is known for these kind of space operas, and the guys aren't entirely sure why more of his manga hasn't yet been translated into English (although Americans may be more familiar with Matsumoto's work in anime).

Next, Shea and Derek look at the first of a two-volume collection, Otherworld Barbara. This is the latest in Fantagraphic's translations of Moto Hagio's manga, the previous editions being A Drunken Dream and Other Stories in 2010 and the shōnen-ai classic, The Heart of Thomas, released in 2013. The latest book has a completely different feel from the earlier Hagio translations, as this is a futuristic, psychological drama playing out in a surreal dreamscape. However, don't mistaken this for anything reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's Inception. Derek and Shea spend a lot of time discussing the themes of identity and doubling in this sophisticated narrative, and they eagerly await the completion of the concluding volume.

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Aug 29, 2016

For the August manga episode, Shea and Derek go topless...at least that's a common condition that they sense in the two titles that they discuss this month. They begin with Hiroya Oku's Inuyashiki, the fourth English-language volume of which was released in June by Kodansha Comics. It's the story of an older Sad Sack of a salaryman, Ichiro Inuyashiki, whose slowly crumbling life is turned around after contact with an alien life form. As a result of this encounter, his body is replaced with a weapon-grade robotic shell, and over the course the first four volumes, Inuyashiki learns to use his new condition to positively change the lives of others. However, complications arise when another man similarly changed by the same alien encounter decides to use his powers for more nihilist purposes. Shea and Derek spend much time discussing Oku's art -- a clean yet static style -- the borderline melodrama of the storytelling, and the fact that Inuyashiki goes around without a shirt much of the time.

After that, the guys turn to their second title of the month, Kenji Tsuruta's Wandering Island (Dark Horse Manga). This is a quest narrative centered on the discovery of a mythical island in the Pacific that is free floating. The protagonist of this series, Mikura Amelia, owns a small delivery service and pilots a bi-floatplane along the Izu Islands. When she discovers the writings of her dead grandfather about the elusive Electric Island, Mikura sets off with her cat Endeavor to prove its existence. The guys appreciate the protagonist as a fully formed, complex adventuring character, but they disagree slightly about the ways in which Tsuruta represents her. Shea feels that the frequently bikinied Mikura is too often posed specifically for the male gaze, and while Derek agrees with his cohost, to a point, he's not entirely convinced that Mikura is sexualized for that purpose. Regardless, Wandering Island rests upon a fascinating premise that will have both of the guys coming back to the title for volume two...whenever that publication might be.

Jul 29, 2016

On the July manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two recent publications that highlight, in different ways, the history of the Japanese medium. They begin with Seiichi Hayashi's Red Red Rock and Other Stories 1967-1970 (Breakdown Press). All but two stories that compose this collection were originally published in Garo, examples of the avant-garde coming from that publication in its heyday. Although not nearly as abstract and non-linear, Hayashi's manga reminds the guys of Sasaki Maki’s Ding Dong Circus, which they discussed in December's manga episode (and also a Breakdown Press publication). As both Derek and Shea point out, the stories collected in Red Red Rock represent some of the earliest of Hayashi's efforts, and they're noticeably more experimental, or at least less linear, than his other work available in English, such as Red Colored Elegy and the stories in Gold Pollen and Other Stories. Adding to this collection is an astute contextualizing essay by Ryan Holmberg, also the book's translator.

After their trip down Garo-inspired memory lane, the Two Guys turn to a work that delineates a much earlier chapter in manga history. The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime is a graphic biography of a man often called "the god of manga" and published by Stone Bridge Press. Created by Toshio Ban (who served as Tezuka's "sub-chief" assistant) and Tezuka Productions, and translated by Frederik L. Schodt, the book appears to be a collaborative, or even corporate, effort to tease out the dynamism and the many facets of its subject's life. In fact, both Shea and Derek feel that there are too many details embedded in the narrative and that the book's 869 pages of story (not counting the substantive Appendixes) could have been paired down significantly. What's more, the tone of the the biography is blatantly reverential and becomes almost too much at times. Readers are presented with example after example of the seemingly superhuman nature of Tezuka, and with little insight into the contradictions and complications that would define any artist's life. Still, The Osamu Tezuka Story is a recommended read and a useful, albeit lengthy, introduction to this manga legend.

Jun 30, 2016

This month Shea and Derek look at two tonally different works of manga. They begin with Yoshitoki Oima's series, A Silent Voice, the final (seventh) volume of which was released from Kodansha Comics at the end of May. It's the story of an elementary school bully, Shoya Ishida, and his attempts to atone for his past behavior after he enters high school. The object of his ridicule was Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf transfer student who was pulled out of her elementary school because of Shoya's insensitive mocking. Now teenagers, Shoyo and Shoko establish a relationship that is spottily therapeutic for both, and with the help of their former elementary school classmates with whom they reestablish contact. While the guys both enjoy this title, there are times when the narrative is worn a little thin. Derek feels that there is excessive emotional wallowing in places, and Shea is not thrilled with the series' quick ending.

A completely different kind of manga is Rokudenashiko's What Is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and Her Pussy (Koyama Press). And the book's subtitle says it all. Rokudenashiko -- a pen name for Megumi Igarashi, and which translates into "good-for-nothing woman" -- tells the story of her evolution as an artist, her work in manko (vagina) art (or "deco-man," as she calls it), and her two 2014 arrests for violating various obscenity laws in Japan. The core of the text is its manga, three separate stories that were originally serialized in the leftist political magazine, Weekly Friday. But about a third of the book is composed of photographs and text-only supplemental material, making this more of a hybrid chronicle of Rokudenashiko's art and legal ordeals. Both Shea and Derek love this book, filled with humor and keen observations on Japan's archaic, paternalistically mandated obscenity laws. In fact, they each want to get a little Manko-chan figurine for themselves!

May 30, 2016

For the month of May, Shea and Derek discuss two books that, at first glance, seem quite different, but whose similarities become more apparent upon closer examination. They begin with Masahiko Matsumoto's Cigarette Girl (Top Shelf Productions), a collection of eleven short comics originally published between 1972 and 1974. This is one of the few books by Matsumoto available in English -- another translation, The Man Next Door, was published by Breakdown Press in 2014 -- and the guys strongly advocate for more attention on this mangaka. Shea and Derek recall their earlier discussion of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, where the figure of Matsumoto is central to Tatsumi's autobiographical narrative. The stories in Cigarette Girl demonstrate the artist's style storytelling, which he referred to as "komaga" (or "panel pictures" in English), with its emphasis on a cinema-influenced panel breakdown and a more adult subject matter. Along with this, all of the stories end ambiguously or "obscurely," without any neat resolution or closure, underscoring the mature and real-life tone found in Matsumoto's work. About all of the pieces in this collection have something to do with , complicated, compromised, or unrequited relationships, with Matsumoto writing from both male and female perspectives. 

And it is this theme where Derek and Shea find the common ground with the other book they discuss this month, Riichi Ueshiba's Mysterious Girlfriend X, Vol. 1 (Vertical Comics). This story has everything to do with relationships, but, as the guys point out, it has perhaps the weirdest premise they've encountered on the manga series so far. The narrative's 17-year-old protagonist and focalizer, Akira Tsubaki, becomes addicted to his new love interest -- literally! -- after tasting some of her drool. He gets sick if he goes without a dose of her saliva every day or so. His drool-defined heartthrob, Mikoto Urabe, is a complete enigma, a mystery made all the more confounding by her hobby of scissor play. Urabe has an uncanny ability to cut quickly and precisely almost any material with her scissors, which she carries holster-like in her panties. In fact, it's the "panty part" of this book that receives much of the guys' attention. Shea and Derek aren't exactly sure what to make of Ueshiba's fascination with older teenage girls' bodies, or the fact that he finds certain "cute" acts so alluring. As the artist summarizes at the end of this first volume, "Don't you think a girl who drools when she falls asleep is cute? Well, this is a comic about that sort of girl." Still, the guys never suggest that Ueshiba is any sort of creepy pedophile, and, in fact, they even see the benefits of setting his particular story within a high school milieu. Be that as it may, Mysterious Girlfriend X has to be one of the most head-scratching stories Shea and Derek have encounter in some time, and, along with Cigarette Girl, provides them with much discussion fodder for this month's episode.

Apr 29, 2016

This month, Shea and Derek have a fun time discussing two recent manga releases. They begin with the first volume of Akiko Higashimura's Princess Jellyfish (Kodansha), a series that is new to both of the guys. In fact, Derek comments that he might not have given this title a try if they hadn't decided to discuss it for the podcast. Given the "princess" part of the book, he had wondered if this might not be too cute for him, a fluffy shojo title that may not appeal to him (while at the same time, admitting that he might be shortsighted). But as the guys discuss, Princess Jellyfish is anything but insubstantial. It's a multi-layered story exploring friendships, gender identity, and fandom. Yet, "fandom" isn't the right word when discussing this manga, and Shea and Derek spend a good deal of time understanding the character and behavioral nuances that Higashimura weaves into her narrative, supplemented by a useful glossary that she include in the back of the book. This is definitely a title that both of the guys will continue reading in the months to come. Next, they look at a completely different kind of manga, the first omnibus volume of Kengo Hanazawa's I Am a Hero (Dark Horse Manga). This book has been getting a good deal of press, especially given its apparent similarity to The Walking Dead. In fact, Derek and Shea discuss the expectations surrounding I Am a Hero and how calling it "zombie manga" may be a lazy way of categorizing this series. At least in this first volume, there is much more to Hanazawa's story that the undead rising. I Am a Hero is also a self-aware meditation on the place of manga in our culture, with the book's protagonist, Hideo Suzuki, serving as its focalizing agent. Plus, there are many unanswered questions surrounding Hideo, non-zombie-based, that makes us question his reliability. And as Shea and Derek point out, it's not entirely certain where Hanazawa's sympathies actually lie regarding his hero...and that's a good thing, at least for Derek, who appreciates ambiguity and authorial distance. Shea suspects that next volumes of the series will more firmly embed themselves in the zombie side of the story, although Derek is hoping that won't entirely be the case. Time will tell.

This is also the one-year anniversary of The Comics Alternative's manga series. So celebrate with them and let them know what you think of their episodes!

Mar 28, 2016

For the March episode of The Comics Alternative's manga series, Shea and Derek discuss two recent releases, both by Inio Asano: A Girl on the Shore (Vertical Comics) and Goodnight Punpun, Vol. 1 (VIZ Media). Before they plunge into those titles, though, they provide a bit of context about Asano's style and briefly discuss his other works that have been translated into English. The guys primarily reference Solanin and Nijigahara Holograph as key Asano texts, but they also mention the two-volume series of short stories, What a Wonderful World. In many ways, Derek feels that A Girl on the Shore is a cross between Solanin's emphasis on relationships and Nijigahara Holograph's fractured or more experimental narration. The guys also spend a good amount of time talking about the sexually explicit nature of the recent book. Most of A Girl on the Shore centers on its protagonists, Kuome and Isobe, slowly exploring one another, and much of that exploration is sexual in nature. However, neither Shea nor Derek feel that the visualizations are gratuitous in any way, and that Asano even complicates his explicitness through certain intriguing artistic choices. Next, the guys turn to a completely different kind of story, and one that's a little more challenging to wrap your brain around. Goodnight Punpun originally ran for thirteen volumes in Japan, and this month VIZ Media began releasing the English translation in larger, two-in-one editions. In this first volume, we're introduced to Punpun Punyama, a weird, largely silent bird-like creature who is supposedly a young human boy as are all of the other characters in the story. (Only the Punyama family is depicted as abstracted birds...although for all we know, this is a world where abstracted birds living with humans has been normalized.) While the storyline of this first volume is fairly straightforward -- primarily a quest narrative for Punpun and his friends, and mostly involving Punpun's love interest, Aiko -- the manner of storytelling isn't. At times Asano's art is surreal or even psychedelic, and the events that occur can be downright trippy. Derek is fascinated by the hipster figure of god that keeps popping up throughout the book, and Shea likens Asano's style to something approximating magical realism. All in all, this first installment of Goodnight Punpun is a fun punch in the gut that has the guys eagerly anticipating the next volumes to be released later this year. But then again, as far as Shea and Derek are concerned, any Inio Asano is worth eagerly anticipating.

Mar 1, 2016

On the February manga show, Shea and Derek look at a new title and an older title. They begin with a discussion of School Judgment 1, recently released by VIZ Media. Written by Nobuaki Enoki and with art by Takeshi Obata -- perhaps best known for his work on Death Note -- this is the first book in a series that has a unique premise. In fact, the guys comment several times on the wacky setup of School Judgment: a legal arbitration system established in Japan's elementary schools, where the students themselves try criminal cases serving as judge, prosecution, and defense. In this first installment, the protagonists Abaku Inugami (for the defense) and Pine Hanzuki (prosecution) battle over three strange cases, with the book ending by setting up a fourth. Shea and Derek discuss the weirdness and the social pertinence of the storylines, including arbitration concerning both drug use and pedophilic voyeurism. After that, they look at at Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly). With an original English publication of 2009, this is Tatsumi's slightly veiled autobiography and a look at his growth as a manga artist. In fact, Derek points out that the book can best be read as a künstlerroman, a narrative about an artist's growth to personal and creative maturity. This is a hefty book of over 830 pages, a marked difference from the kind of short-form manga that Tatsumi is best known for. Indeed, both Shea and Derek contrast reading A Drifting Life to their experiences with his short-story collections, such as The Push Man and Other StoriesAbandon the Old in TokyoGood-Bye, and Fallen Worlds (also published in English by Drawn & Quarterly). While the shorter slice-of-life narratives are clear examples of gekiga, an alternative manga form advocated by Tatsumi himself, this autobiographical work is more conventional. And being a retrospective look back at his early life, Tatsumi brings into his story the real-life artists that inspired him and served as his companions and competitors, including Osamu TezukaMasahiko MatsumotoTakao Saito, and Susumu Yamamori. As the guys conclude, this is an outstanding book and the perfect introduction to the world of Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Feb 5, 2016

Shea and Derek are back with their January episode of the manga series. But isn't this the first of week of February? Yes it is, but due to unforeseen circumstances, the guys had to postpone the recording of their January episode and had carry it over into this week. But no worries! They still bring you the same great quality manga analysis, and, in addition, this means that listeners will get a double dose of Shea and Derek's manga talk for the month of February!

They begin with Hiroaki Samura's Die Wergelder, Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics). Those familiar Blade of the Immortal will instantly recognize Samura's style and know that they're in for a dynamic narrative punctuated with what some might feel are scenes of gratuitous sexual violence. In fact, Shea addresses this issue toward the beginning of their discussion, wondering if Die Wergelder might put off some of its readers. Derek argues that these kind of scenes serve a legitimate narrative purpose, especially as it regards one of the book's protagonists, Träne, building character and setting a purposefully disturbing context. This first English-language edition collects the first two volumes of the original Japanese series, which began in 2011, and introduces what is arguably the title's three main protagonists, women with uncertain and even tragic pasts whose stories converge in a narrative of yakuza wars and corporate intrigue. Next, the guys turn to Suehiro Maruo's The Strange Tale of Panorama Island (Last Gasp). Originally published in English in 2013, this is an adaptation of Edogawa Rampo's 1920s novel, a twisted Poe-esque narrative of death, indulgences, and self-reinvention. Derek highlights what he sees as the carnivalesque nature of the story, but a more appropriate descriptive frame would be ero guro (erotic grotesque), a style of art defined by eroticism, decadence, and sexual (at times horrific) indulgence. Indeed, Maruo is known for this kind of manga, perhaps more notably displayed in Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show and the stories collected in Ultra-Gash InfernoPanorama Island is more tame and lower down the "grotesque" scale than these books, but it's nonetheless a disturbing, nightmarish journey into human desire.

Dec 31, 2015

For their December manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two very different works. They start off with Makoto Yukimura's Planetes Ominbus, Vol. 1, just released from Dark Horse Books. This is the first of two large editions of the Japanese series that originally ran from 1999 to 2004. It's the story of a space debris removal crew -- orbital garbage collectors -- whose job is to clear out all of the man-made trash floating around the earth so as to make space travel safer. Taking place in the 2070s, this is a futuristic narrative that feels closely connected to our own world. The guys describe it as a kind of hard science fiction (with its emphasis on technical detail and scientific accuracy), but one that is heavily character-driven. Derek highlights both the drama and the comedy that take place among the crew members -- especially with Hachimaki, who is arguably the central figure in this first volume -- and Shea points out that while anchored in the science, Planetes is more of an "everyday" series that is focused on the mundane facets of space exploration. Next, the guys turn to a completely different kind of manga, one that challenges our ways of reading comics. Ding Dong Circus and Other Stories, 1967 to 1974 (Breakdown Press) collects fifteen of Sasaki Maki's short works, all but one originally published in the legendary manga magazine, Garo, between 1967 and 1971. The majority of these pieces are not what you would call "stories" in the strictest sense, in that there is no temporal or causal connection between panels suggesting sequence. Even the comics that do betray narrative elements, such as "The Town Horse" or "The Ballad of Henri and Anne," are constructed in fragmented ways that suggest an unsteady dreamscape more than anything. The best way to read Maki's work, as Shea and Derek point out, is by understanding it as visual poetry -- with an emphasis on image and association -- or as "musical" compositions reliant on graphical leitmotifs. If you approach Ding Dong Circus in this way, then you can better enjoy Sasaki Maki's pop art-like, collage form of manga that embodies much of the tone and significations of the 1960s. For more on this book, check out Shea's recent review on the A.V. Club.

Nov 30, 2015

Another month, another healthy dose of manga! For November, Shea and Derek make it a themed episode, one whose binding tie is an unlikely and infamous historical figure. To coincide with the 70th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg Trials, the guys discuss two masters of manga and their takes on Adolf Hitler. They begin with Shigeru Mizuki's Hitler, released earlier this month from Drawn and Quarterly. Since 2011, the Canadian publisher has been introducing English-speakers to the incredible work of Mizuki, and this most recent translation is of a curious graphic biography originally published in 1971. Mizuki approaches Hitler's life as more of a character-study than as a historical determinant. Over the course of the book's first half, we see a very human, very pathetic -- and very troubled -- Adolf Hitler, a man whose failures far outweigh his triumphs. But both Shea and Derek note that as the text carries us into the 1940s, Mizuki's narrative is more rapid-fire and historically episodic, and the man that we're left with is the failed, unstable dictator most often depicted in popular media. Next, the Two Manga Guys turn to a more epic undertaking, Osamu Tezuka's A Message to Adolf (Vertical). Originally serialized in Shukan Bunshun magazine between 1983 and 1985, this is a work of fiction that heavily incorporates the historical figure. In fact, the entire narrative -- totaling over 1,200 pages in Vertical's most recent edition -- is driven by questions surrounding Hitler's possible Jewish heritage. The gist of the story, however, is devoted to the lives of two other Adolfs, both living in Kobe, Japan: one a German Jew growing up in the East, and the other a half-Japanese son of a Nazi Party official. The two become fast friends, only to have history, and fascist ideology, disrupt that relationship. Another character, a newspaper reporter named Sohei Toge, functions as the binding element of these various storylines, and both Derek and Shea highlight -- and marvel at -- the many moving parts that make up this narrative. This is a massive work that shows Tezuka at the peak of his artistry and storytelling abilities. There may be a lot of Hitler in this month's episode, but in the hands of both Mizuki and Tezuka, it's the kind of Hitler that the Two Guys can definitely stomach.

Oct 30, 2015

Shea and Derek return for another month's serving of warm, creamy manga. This one includes a heaping helping of other worldly phantoms and pedagogical cephalopods. In keeping with the spirit (literally) of the Halloween season, the guys begin with Nukuharu's Anomal (Gen Manga), a collection of seven short stores originally serialized in the Gen manga anthology. They enjoy the narratives well enough, but they're not entirely sure they understand the premises that Nukuharu establishes. At times there are noticeable gaps in exposition, as if the reader is coming into the middle of a story world with little context. Nonetheless, there are some stories that really stand out for the guys, such as "Kaeshi" and "Kaguya." While Anomal might not have been the strongest collection Derek and Shea have read, they conclude that it is worth checking out. Next, the Two Guys discuss the first six books in Yusei Matsui's Assassination Classroom series (the latest volume having just been released from VIZ Media). Whereas several of Nukuharu's stories were thin on premise, one cannot say the same of Matsui's efforts. Assassination Classroom centers on a mysterious other worldly being resembling an octopus, and who threatens to annihilate the earth, after having demonstrated his powers by destroying seventy percent of the moon. For some unknown reason, he asks to be the teacher of the underachieving students at Kunugigaoka Academy, a junior high prep school in Tokyo. All the while, and with the help of the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the students are trained and encouraged to assassinate their alien teacher, an all but impossible task given his varied and unlikely powers. The round-faced and multi-tentacled word-be destroyer adopts the name Koro Sensei -- a combination of "koro senai" (meaning "can't be killed") and "sensei" (teacher) -- and throughout the series he instructs his students on self-betterment, self-respect, and a sense of life purpose. As both Shea and Derek highlight, the series' strong suit is its ensemble cast, including conflicted classmates, unprincipled principals,  and teachers with dubious backgrounds, ranging from government agents to sexy professional assassins. Although Shea is a little uneasy with the series' subtle emphasis on militarization, both agree that Assassination Classroom excels at wringing compelling stories out of outrageous premises. This is a title that the guys will continue to follow.

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