Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Holiday Giveaway Winner & 2019 in the Rear View

First of all, time to announce this year's winner of my Holiday Giveaway: AmonduulUS!

Probably a tie between Go With the Clouds, North-by-Northwest (hard to beat a guy who talks to cars and drives around Iceland solving problems) and Gou Tanabe's adaption of In the Mountains of Madness (Tanabe's real good at drawing Antarctica and ships and horrifying monstrosity)

Amonduul, please contact me via Twitter so that we can send you that $25 RightStuf gift certificate right away!  In the meantime I hope you enjoyed my own take on Go With the Clouds, North-by-Northwest.

This year was probably the most I've had to struggle to put together the line-up for my holiday reviews.  That wasn't because there weren't enough books, but because there were so many good and interesting ones to choose from that I had to make a lot of hard choices.  While making all of those hard choices, I was able to reflect on just how much has changed between the beginning of this decade and its end.

At the beginning of this decade, I was in 26, just starting to dabble in anime, single, looking for steady work, unsure of what direction my life was going in.  Now as I head towards 36, I have a loving husband, two adorable kitties, and...well, I'm still working on the whole steady job and life direction part.  Yet the choice to start a manga review blog back in 2012 has a greater effect on my life than I ever could have expected. 

Yes, it's true that most of the manga blogs that inspired this particular site faded away as the conversation around manga shifted almost entirely to social media.  Yes, it's true that this particular blog has only garnered a little bit of attention over the years and a very modest income.  It's still more of a hobby than anything else.  Despite that, I'm proud of the nearly 600 (!) reviews I've written in that time.  Those works help me forge my own voice; without them, I probably wouldn't be writing  pieces for Anime Feminist or doing convention panels across the country, much less making more friends (online or otherwise) than I ever could have dreamed of back at the beginning of this decade.  The Manga Test Drive has helped make me the woman I am today. 

That's far from the only thing that's changed - manga in the US has changed radically in this last decade.  At the beginning, the American manga scene was one that was still in freefall.  Publishers were failing, series were getting dropped, the shelves were clogged with B- and C-list titles, and it all wouldn't come to an end until a year later with the (sadly temporary) closure of Tokyopop.  Now it's stronger than it ever, bolstered on the backs of Attack on Titan and half a dozen different series from various Jump magazines.  The publishers learned well from the mistakes of the previous decade, and combined with the rise of e-books and reading apps it's increasingly easy to enjoy manga legally.  We have hit series in genres that were previously thought unsalable: sports manga, josei, yuri, food manga.  We're seeing old standards resurrected for English audiences and new frontiers forged through webmanga.  Manga has truly never been better, more diverse, and more accessible than now.  These trends have shown no sign of stopping as we head into the 2020s, and I can only dream of the wonders this next decade will bring for myself, for manga as a whole, and for all those who love it.

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade, and may your days be full of good manga to read.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Holiday Review: SAINT YOUNG MEN

In any other year, Witch Hat Atelier would have been my final review, but then I remembered that this came out and the choice was all too obvious.

After all, the mythology of Christmas is all about miracles and the fact that we can finally read this in English is onto itself a miracle!  So many bigots like to harp about "the reason for the season," so why not read a manga about Him (and his best friend Buddha)?

SAINT YOUNG MEN (Seinto Onii-san), by Hikaru Nakamura.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2019.


To better understand humanity, Jesus Christ and Buddha decide to live among humanity.  They establish themselves in a tiny apartment in the middle of Tokyo, trying (if not always successfully) to hide their divine natures.  Together they enjoy some of the tiny, everyday pleasures and frustrations of life in general.


I feel kind of bad saying this because this series is so beloved and people have waited so long for this series because the mangaka was legitimately afraid that it would get protested if it were published in English but....I was kind of underwhelmed by Saint Young Men.

I will say this: I liked it a lot more than Arakawa Under the Bridge.  That's because instead of actively trying to be strange and random, the comedy here is a lot more focused.  The premises are simple, solid, and even a little sitcom-esque at times.  There's also a LOT of references to both Christianity and Buddhism, from the most obvious to obscure.  There are so many that each chapter has translation notes afterwards, not just at the end of the book.  Clearly a lot of research went into this.  I particularly like the way she uses that research to inform this particular interpretation of their personalities while retaining the odd couple dynamic.

And yet I kept waiting to laugh some big, boisterous laugh and that moment never happened.  I definitely smirked a few times, and smiled at jokes even more in a "I got that reference" sort of way.  I guess it's just a little too low-key to really tickle my particular funny bone.  Still, I'm glad we finally have the chance to experience it for ourselves.


Nakamura's visual humor is also kind of low-key.  There aren't a lot of big visual gags so much as jokes stuffed in asides and the sides of the panels.  The biggest visual joke is in the characters themselves, as no amount of casual T-shirts and jeans can hide that both Jesus and Buddha look about as archetypal as possible.  Indeed, more than a few gags are had about them being anxious about being recognized.  Being a gag manga, there isn't much of a focus on the scenery and not much done with the panel layouts.


You know you're dealing with a prestigious manga when you not only get copious translation notes, but also a foreword from a curator from the British Museum who used this series in multiple manga-related exhibits.


Even if it wasn't to my taste, Saint Young Men is an enjoyable comedy.  The way it combines the mythology around its main duo with its everyday premise is a good combo that shows a better understanding of both that other, more explicitly reverent works.  It's definitely worth a look, if simply to reward the time and effort it took to bring it over here.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 17 volumes available. 1 volume has been released in print and 4 volumes are available digitally; all are currently in print.

Want a chance to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate?  Then tell us about your favorite manga of 2019 to enter our annual Holiday Review Giveaway!  The giveaway ends at midnight tonight!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


That being said, nothing that came out before or since this year prepared me for just how amazing today's selection was or how much I was going to love it.

WITCH HAT ATELIER (Tongari Boushi no Atelier), by Kamome Shirahama.  First published in 2016 and first published in North America in 2019.


Coco has been fascinated with magic all her life, ever since a man gave her a book and a wand at a festival.  When she spies on a visiting witch, she learns the key to magic: it is based not on words, but intricate drawn sigils.  In her enthusiasm, she accidentally traps her mother in crystal, and the witch takes Coco on as his newest apprentice.  Coco's desire to learn is great, but will it be enough to overcome unfriendly students, magical tests, and a strange masked person who watches over her every move?

Monday, December 23, 2019


As we wind things down, I like to reflect on some of the manga that didn't necessarily fit any trends but simply made an impression on me like this one.

PHANTOM TALES OF THE NIGHT (Bakemono Yawa-zukushi), by Matsuri.  First published in 2016 and first published in North America in 2019.


Somewhere on the edge between reality and the spirit world is an inn.  Inside, its owner will see to your every comfort and maybe even make a wish come true...for a price.  This owner does not deal in money, but in secrets, and to him nothing is more valuable than the deep, dark secrets that one would die to protect.

Sunday, December 22, 2019


That being said, my shojo series is technically not shojo (it runs in Morning Two, a seinen magazine), but for all intensive purposes is the best and weirdest shojo manga to come out in English this year.

KAIJU GIRL CARAMELISE (Otome Kaiju Kyaramerize), by Spica Aoki.  First published in 2018 and first published in North America in 2019.


Kuroe Akaishi doesn't want anyone to get too close to her.  For as long as she can remember, whenever her feelings grow too strong her body undergoes monstrous changes.  That's why she goes out of her way to avoid Arata, the cutest boy in class.  When he reaches out to her anyway, she finds herself falling for him.  The closer he gets, though, the greater the risk that Kuroe's overwhelming feelings will turn her into a towering, city-stomping monster of love.