Friday, October 2, 2015


It's October once more, which normally means that I'd be starting yet another round of horror manga.  This year is a little different though.  This month marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Neon Genesis Evangelion, so what better time could there be for me to review all of the Evangelion manga?  Before I can start delving into the weirder twists and turns this franchise has taken in the world of manga, though, we should start with the first and original work.

NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (Shin Seiki Evangerion), by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto.  First published in 1994, and first published in North America in 1998.


Shinji Ikari has spend most of his 14 years of life being quietly depressed and self-loathing.  Mind you, he's far from the only person with problems, considering that around the time he was born, the world was radically altered by a catastrophic event known only as Second Impact.  Out of the blue, Shinji gets an invitation to Tokyo from his cold, distant father Gendo, but the day Shinji arrives also happens to be the same day the city is attacked by an Angel, a massive, bizarre, and almost untouchable monster.  Shinji soon finds himself whisked into the world of NERV, an organization that uses giant piloted robots called EVAs to fight back against the Angels.  Shinji is now the latest EVA pilot at NERV, and he must face the Angel and fight back if he and the world are to survive.


It's hard to approach this manga without any presumptions when you've already familiar with the story.  This wasn't so much of a problem when this manga first debuted, as it came out months before the first episode ever aired.  These days, though, anyone who has seen the first couple of episodes of the show or the first Rebuild movie will have seen everything there is to see in this first volume and thus it's harder for a modern reader to approach it with fresh eyes.

I'm not joking when I say that this first volume follows the story of the first two episodes almost beat for beat.  All the characters who should be there are there, and they talk and act as they should at this early point in the story.  Shinji is depressed, Gendo is a looming creep, Misato is her usual spunky self, and Rei is quiet and bleeding heavily, and we start to learn the basics about NERV, the EVAs, and the Angels.  The only major addition is the insertion of a couple of dream sequences which makes the true nature of the EVAs (and Shinji's in particular) kind of obvious.  All the mecha battles are there as well, and they are suitably huge in scale.  It's just that it all hews so closely to the original source material that it feels utterly redundant.  I can't help but want Sadamoto to do a bit more and to do something a little difference to make this experience of Evangelion more distinct.  As it is, it's perfectly fine, but it feels more like an illustrated recap than it does a proper manga.


Now it goes without saying that the artwork is pretty solid.  When you have the show's character designer doing the art, there's no concern that he's going to screw up the character designs or make a mangle of the artwork in general.  Sadamoto's style is confident and expressive, even if he really does tend to draw the same angular face over and over, but it's perfectly fine here. That being said, he doesn't take any real risks with his artwork either.  The presentation is plain and simple, and it's clear that Sadamoto didn't necessarily feel all that comfortable with the mecha action.  They come off as somewhat stiff, and they beg to be blown up into big, splashy panels instead of a bunch of mostly static mid-range shots.  There's no energy or drama to them, and it's a detriment to a beginning that's in desperate need of both. 


There are quite a few extras here because of the fact that this manga came out before the show did.  The production crew took this chance to try and sell their audience on the show, which is why we have not only an introductory essay from series creator Hideaki Anno but also an essay and sketches of EVA-01 from mecha designer Ikuto Yamashita.


The original Evangelion manga starts off perfectly fine, but it doesn't really add to or enhance the story it's adapting.  It's simply there, and it's hard to recommend it too strongly when its animated equivalents are so much more engaging.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes available.  All 14 have been published and are currently in print and available in e-book form through

Monday, September 14, 2015


There's a lot of school-themed boys' love out there, especially those set in that most obvious hotbeds of teenaged homoeroticism: the boarding school.  Today's selections is one of the better known examples in English, but its age can't save it from the fact that it's kind of terrible.

LA ESPERANCA (Esuperansa), by Chigusa Kawai.  First published in 2000, and first published in North America in 2005. 


Georges Saphir is a very good boy.  Ever since his father died, he has always strived to be kind and helpful to everyone he meets.  One day, a new boy named Robert enters Georges' class, and from the moment they meet Robert is determined to lash out at Georges at every opportunity.  To Robert, Georges is disingenuous; no one could be so pure and good in all seriousness, so he'll just do his best to tear down Georges emotionally to prove his point.  Things only get more complicated when Frederick enters their class.  Frederick is a young prince who is used to the world bowing down to his every whim but hates the distance this creates between himself and others. Thus, he chooses to take out on the boy assigned to be his friend: poor little Georges.  As for Georges, though, he's determined to find a way to reach out to both of them, even as he struggles to find some sense of self-acceptance.


I was kind of surprised to learn that La Esperanca was supposedly a big-name title in American BL fandom.  Why?  Well, it's because the story isn't so much a romance as it is a bunch of melodramatic teenaged nonsense and every plot twist made me want to roll my eyes and sigh in annoyance.

Every character here is some ridiculous extreme.  They're either perfect saints or perfect assholes, and the latter lash out at the former because UGH I'M SUCH A REBEL AND YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND MY PAIN.  NOTHING IS GOOD IN LIFE SO I'M JUST GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE BECAUSE AAAAAAAAAAAANGST.  The only time it changes is when these same characters are raging about OH NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE REAL ME, I DON'T WANT TO BE SPECIAL SO I'LL PROJECT ALL MY FRUSTRATIONS ON OTHERS WAAAAAAAAAH.  It's just the worst sort of shallow, stereotypical teenage drama and each of our three leading men is guilty of it to one degree or another.  The only relief from all the angst comes when Robert has something of a breakthrough before the end if simply because Frederick starts taking out his issues on Robert's favorite punching bag.  Thus he starts filling his time with lots of pointless BL fanservice.  He's pretty much the only reason this could be considered shonen-ai, as he spends an awful lot of time hovering over Georges, pinning him to walls, and even forcing a kiss or two on the poor kid.  I wouldn't have a problem with this except for the fact that it absolutely doesn't fit with his I WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING attitude and fits far more with the author forcing Robert to play the role of the seme for the fangirls.  Not content to be left behind, Frederick starts to take a turn for the tsundere as the story goes on.  He bullies Georges at every opportunity, but then gets jealous when literally anyone else has a conversation with him.

I will grant those two one point: Georges really is too saintly to be believed.  No saint in the history of the Catholic church could ever hope to be as perfect as Georges; he's less of a character than he is a construct, a personification of martyrdom itself.  Not even he can escape from this story's fetish for angst, as Georges' father was a greedy bastard who literally stole from the poor.  Thus Georges sees his father's sins as his own and is determined to make up for them by being Mr. Perfect.  Even after Georges reaches a point where he can start letting go of that baggage, it's done in a manner that's completely cheesy and that rings complete false.  In other words, it's just like every other emotional turning point in the story.

Reading La Esperanca is an exhausting experience.  Any emotional truths it has to offer are completely drowned out by all the lazy, theatrical drama that the story dishes out.  All these heightened emotions and heavy-handed morals make the story as a whole feel claustrophobic and suffocating.  I can't imagine anyone out of their teens enjoying this unless they were utterly desperate for cheap, homoerotic drama.


La Esperanca's art is rather old-fashioned for BL, and because of that I could see some modern readers getting turned off by the art style in general.  The character designs are pretty standard for BL, with their narrow, cramped faces, pointed chins, and floppy, overdrawn hair.  What's truly horrifying is what happens when Kawai tries to make them express something other than dull surprise, as it tends to come out as 'rapeface' regardless of what she was intending to pull off.   Worse, they all tend to look alike save for their heights and hair colors.  This can make some story points more confusing as intended, as Frederick looks so much like Robert that often you can only distinguish him by the fact that he's shorter and isn't quite so shitty towards Georges.   The panels are also just as claustrophobic as the story.  Almost every panel zooms in uncomfortable close as the boys brood in a sea of shoujo sparkles.  Because of this the artwork as a whole comes off as dark and messy as the story itself.


La Esperanca is a tedious bit of shonen-ai melodrama with bad art, pointless BL fanservice, and terrible characters all around.  Its reputation is in no way earned and it's best forgotten along with the majority of DMP's manga library.

This series was published by Digital Manga Publishing.  This series is complete in Japan with 7 volumes available.  All 7 were published and all are currently out of print.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Sorry for the late start this month.  I had a theme in mind, but the books I had on hand for it were all so boring that it was hard to muster up enough enthusiasm to write them up.

Seriously, for something as awesome as ninjas, there's shockingly little good manga about them.

Anyway!  We're going to take things back to school with manga about high schools, and this one in particular serves as the perfect transition from last month to this one.

HERE IS GREENWOOD (Koko wa Gurin Uddo), by Yukie Nasu.  First published in 1987 and first published in North America in 2004.


Kazuya Hasukawa's life is full of tragedy.  Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his beloved older brother.  To Kazuya, his brother was the pinnacle of manhood.  Thus, he feels doubly betrayed when his brother grows up to become a nurse after marrying Sumire, whom Kazuya had a massive, secret crush on.  He's determined to heal his broken and deeply melodramatic heart by moving into the dorms at the Ryokuto Academy.  There's only one slight flaw with Kazuya's plan: his dormmates are a bunch of weirdos who keep dragging Kazuya into their plans when they're not teasing him.  It doesn't matter whether it's student body president Shinobu, the RA Mitsuru, or Kazuya's roommate Shun (who is actually a girl...sort of.  It's complicated), they all seem determined to keep Kazuya busy with something other than brooding.


Here Is Greenwood is the sort of manga that defies simple categorization.  It's a school-based sitcom of sorts but unlike modern versions it's less about slice-of-life fluff and more about farcical set-ups.  The lead is surrounded not only by loads of handsome older guys but also a very pretty girl yet it never once threatens to become any sort of romance.  It focuses a lot on the emotions of its lead like a lot of shoujo, but it's also not afraid to poke fun at his belief that his life is some sort of endless high tragedy.  Here Is Greenwood simply is what it is, and while that can make it something of a hard sale, it's no less charming for it.

I imagine that how much any given reader enjoys this series will depend a lot upon how much they can tolerate Kazuya.  It's true that he's a 15 year old boy and as such he's naturally prone to blowing everything out of proportion, but he was far too much of a teenaged drama queen for my liking.  He just can't get over the fact that his brother isn't the perfect masculine father figure he's worshipped for so long, and he really can't get over his crush on Sumire (which blinds him to the fact that she sees Kazuya as nothing but a little brother).  Worst of all, Kazuya's determination to be seen as a proper man is bruised every time someone looks at his short height, pretty face, and feminine name and calls him adorable.  Naturally, this means that he's the perfect straightman to all the wackiness going on around him and everyone - even the author - seems to enjoy poking at him and knocking him off his high horse.  Every once in a while he's able to stop his own mental pity party long enough to start engaging with his dormmates and the world around him, and it's at those moments that Kazuya finally starts to becoming something other than an object of ridicule for his classmates and the story at large. 

The rest of the main cast doesn't get nearly as much focus as Kazuya does, but they do get enough time to stretch beyond simple character types and to start become fully fleshed and endearing characters in their own right.  No character better exemplifies that approach than Shun.  It would have been so easy for Nasu to just make her a tomboy or the token girl that all the boys would fight over to win.  Instead she is treated for all intensive purposes as one of the boys; while she is biologically female and perfectly fine with that, she has been raised as a boy and all her documentation lists her as such and she doesn't see why it's such a big deal. She's also never sexually objectified, as she tends to dress loosely and casually and she tends to be rather slight and lacking in curves in the first place.  As such, most everyone presumes that she's just a long-haired and slightly weird guy and only Kazuya knows the full truth.  In all fairness, the story's casual attitude towards Shun is par for the course for a manga like this.  It features guys working in traditionally female roles.  It makes a running gag out of the fact that the guys' names sound feminine while Shun's name is masculine.  Here Is Greenwood might be nearly 30 years old, but its casual and subtly subversive approach to gender and gender roles makes it a work that's no less progressive today than it was back then.

The tone of Here Is Greenwood is hard to pin down at times. I'm sure that part of this is simply because a lot of manga struggle to find a consistent tone in their early chapters, but it's sometimes hard to tell at times whether the story is meant to be comedic, dramatic, or something strange in between.  The gags found within are fairly mild and a lot of the humor is either based around background running gags or the quiet moments that occur when a character takes a moment to realize just how ridiculous a situation has become.  Everything here tends to be pretty low-key: the comedy, the drama, the friendships.  Even the passage of time goes by slowly, and it mostly avoids a lot of the standard school events that tend to mark your standard school year.  Yet it's that same casual approach that makes Here Is Greenwood charming in its own particular way.  It doesn't trade on tropes, but instead takes it time to build up some genuinely enjoyable characters and some good slow-burning humor.


Nasu's art is very much of its time, but it's simple and charming nonetheless. Nasu's style seems like what would happen when you tried to combine some of the visual floridness of 1970s shoujo with the smooth cute designs of Kimagure Orange Road or the many works of Rumiko Takahashi.  The character designs do tend to stray towards the androgynous side of things, which actually goes a long way towards selling the reader on Shun's ability to pass as a guy and Kazuya being seen as cute and adorable.  Still, everyone is terribly cute and expressive and it's generally aged quite well (even if the same cannot be said for what would have been the fashion of its time). 


Here Is Greenwood is a gentle, good-natured comedy that would appeal to a lot of modern-day slice-of-life fans.  The characters and story alike straddle that fine line between relatable and ridiculous without ever straying too far in either direction, and the artwork has a clean and ageless cuteness about it that promises to appeal to manga fans of any age.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan, with 9 volumes available. All 9 were released in both physical and ebook format.  The physical volumes are out of print, but the digital volumes are available through 

Monday, August 17, 2015


Let's keep up with this romantic vein with an old-school shoujo classic, one of many that Tokyopop put out in their time.

KARE KANO (Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo, or His and Hers Circumstances), by Masami Tsuda.  First published in 1996, and first published in North America in 2003.


Yukino Miyazawa is the perfect student.  She is pretty, popular, athletic and generally considered one of the best students in the class.  This perfection is merely an act, though, one that's achieved through hard training, constant study, and obsessing over every element of her looks.  Why does Yukari go through all of this?  For the attention!  She is quite literally in it for the ego boost she gets from each and every compliment.  There is only one threat to Yukino's perfect image, and its name is Arima Soichiro.  He's her equal in looks, brains, and talent, and Yukino initially regards him as the competition.  When he discovers her secret, though, he begins to open up to her.  Soon enough Yukino discovers that no only does Arima have a lot of issues of his own, but that her own feelings for him may be changing.


There are countless shoujo stories about schoolkids falling in love, and it's hard for anyone to do anything new or original with that idea.  So how has Kare Kano managed to persist in the hearts and minds of so many despite not doing anything particularly new or original?  I think it comes down to the characters.

Yukino and Arima are Kare Kano's greatest strengths.  They're not just another pair of one note clichés, they're not hopelessly naïve, and are completely honest about their flaws.  Yukino outright states more than once that she knows she's a total egomaniac.  She knows that her true self isn't the polished poised student, but the track suit-wearing, bespectacled, and mildly lazy girl she lets herself be at home, yet she doesn't care.  So long as she gets praise, she'll bust her ass to keep up her own personal charade.  Arima is in his own way putting up a façade, although his is borne more out of obligation than selfish desire.  Thus, our protagonists are already united from the start by their shared need for a public persona to avoid disappointing others.  This is a dilemma that many a teenager could relate to, even if most of them wouldn't go to quite such extremes, and it helps to give our leads a bit of complexity that is not common in shoujo.

The events of the story so far are not all that remarkable, although the bits and pieces we learn about Arima suggest that there will be a lot more family drama to come.  Still, there's some appeal in what just. how these two silly kids figuring out their mutual attraction.  That's also part of the reason that I like the side story after the main one.  It's about an extremely shy girl who gets close to the tall and silent new guy in her class.  Her glasses get broken in an accident and he offers to be her sight in the mean time.  The girl's neuroses were a bit simple and bit much for my taste, but the male lead was terribly endearing as he reveals himself to be a rather adorable dork.

Kare Kano isn't the kind of story that pushes boundaries, but instead excels just through solid character writing.  It gives its leads some interesting foibles and the interaction between the two of them is fascinating.  Sometimes, even such a simple effort is enough to make a story a classic.


The art and characters alike are drawn very finely, verging on sparseness.  It's still very much in a traditional shoujo style, but it avoids a lot of the excesses of the genre.  That doesn't mean that Tsuda doesn't break out the screen tones and flower petals during the more dramatic moments, but she uses such things sparingly since her characters (especially Yukino) are so expressive.  She's also rather sparing with the backgrounds, using patterns and subdued screen tones instead to fill in for them.  Where Tsuda really shines is with the way she uses page and panel composition.  In particular, she's fond of using tall vertical panels during big dramatic moments, and they work well to make these moments stand out visually.  It's a nice way for Tsuda to make her otherwise sparse art stand out and give it a few moments of quiet beauty.


Kare Kano is a classic schoolroom shoujo that owes a lot to its well written cast of characters.  If the artwork had been stronger or more distinctive, this would have been an easy green light, but as it is it's still something that every shoujo fan should check out.

This series was published by Tokyopop.  This series is complete in Japan, with 21 volumes available.  All 21 were published and all are currently out of print. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015


It's rather appropriate to review this series now, considering that it's finally ending after running for nearly THREE DECADES and getting an omnibus rerelease.  After reading this volume, though, it's easy to see how this series could stick around for so long.

OH MY GODDESS! (Aa! Megami-sama), by Kosuke Fujishima.  First published in 1988, and first published in North America in 1994.


Keiichi Morisato is a poor college student who orders out for food one night only to end up reaching the goddess Belldandy instead.  She offers to grant him one wish, and Keiichi offhandedly wishes that a goddess like her would stay with him forever.  His wish comes true as he and Belldandy are now inseperatable, and while this causes a lot of trouble Keiichi soon finds himself smitten with sweet, gentle Belldandy.  Now he has to find a way to declare his love for her, keep Belldandy's true identity a secret from others, and help his friends with their own problems.


Oh My Goddess! is a very sweet, very casual, and slightly unfocused manga (although how unfocused depends on the edition you read).  It's not perfect, but it's one of those rare magical girlfriend series that can appeal to both sexes and it's easy so why it's still so appealing even after all these years.

Fujisawa wastes no time getting the story going.  Within the first twenty pages, Keiichi and Belldandy are bound together and the premise is set.  After that, though, he hits the brakes hard and is more than content to take his sweet time with the story.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it means that Fujisawa can take his time and come up with all sorts of equally sweet and funny scenarios to throw his cast of characters into.  Best of all, it's driven more by conflict and farce than the sort of raunchy fanservice that defines a lot of later magical girlfriend manga, which means that Oh My Goddess! avoids a lot of the lame gags and tropes that tend to come with that territory.  The only problem is that all that meandering doesn't do much for the characters.  They might get plenty of screen time, but they don't change all that much from beginning to end.  Belldandy is always sweetness and light personified, Keiichi remains as hapless in life and love as ever, and neither of them are willing to make the first official move towards becoming a proper couple.  Still, compared to a lot of other characters in his position, Keiichi is fairly dignified.  He may be short and unlucky in love, but he has an education and some skill with machines, and gives him an edge that the Tenchis and Keitaros of the manga world will never possess.

Now, I've not discussed the plot in any detail in part because what stories you get depend on what edition of the first volume you read.  The first edition was heavily edited to help it more closely match the then-current OVA and to help the story move along more quickly.  These missing scenes were put back in all of the later editions, and having read both versions I can say with some authority that the later editions flow so much better than the edited one.  Yeah, that means it takes a lot longer to get to Urd and Skuld, but it gives our leading couple plenty of time to get relatively comfortable before things start getting really wacky.  It also allows a lot of the supporting cast to get their moment to shine, be it Keiichi's school friends, his sister, some of his other classmates, and even some of his teachers. It'll never be mistaken for an eventful manga, but Oh My Goddess! remains an eminently comfortable and endearing manga as well as one of the finest examples of its respective genre.


Fujisawa's character designs are decidedly odd even for its own time.  For reasons I cannot explain, both Keiichi and Belldandy have these weird, heavy-browed, diamond-shaped heads.  It does tend to distinguish them visually from the rest of the cast (who tend to be drawn in a blocky, cartoon-like manner), but it goes tend to make their faces shift about strangely when viewed from an angle.  Expressions tend to be big and cartoony all around, which means that Keiichi in particular gets to make some spectacular Tex Avery-style bug-eyes.  The recent omnibus rerelease features color pages at the beginning of some of the chapters, and they look great so long as you can get used to Belldandy's old, silvery hair.  Otherwise the presentation is quite sedate, with very little flair to the panels or the pages.  It's not a flashy series, but that lack of flash just adds to the coziness of the work instead of against it.


Oh My Goddess! is rambling and occasionally a little odd, but its gentle pacing, general innocence, and entertaining cast make this one of the few magical girlfriend manga that's worth seeking out. 
It was true way back when, and it's still true now.

This series is published by Dark Horse.  This series is complete in Japan with 48 volumes available.  All 48 volumes have been published in both single volumes and 3-in-1 omnibuses, and all are currently in print.