Arakifest ’12: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 2

So, again. In case you missed the earlier review of Rohan at the Louvre, I always take June 7th as a day to talk about Hirohiko Araki. He’s my favorite artist ever, and coincidentally, I share a June 7th birthday with him, so it seems like a fine time to promote an artist who isn’t very popular among English-language fans.

It’s been awhile since I’ve actually written a post like this. Usually I just talk about the most recent volume of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in English, but I ran out of those last year. I’m always out of town this week, so doing a fancy article is difficult. But this year, I planned ahead! So now, I’m going to cover Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure part two, which is volumes 6-12. This wasn’t translated into English, and the reviews I link above are actually part three, which starts in Japanese volume 13.

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Artist Spotlight: Toko Kawai

My recent very thorough foray into English-language BL has netted me several new artist to keep an eye on. Previously, I was a huge fan of est em, Fumi Yoshinaga, and Hinako Takanaga. Now, I also keep an eye out for anything by Satoru Ishihara, Keiko Kinoshita, You Higashino, and a few others. But my great loves now are Yugi Yamada and Toko Kawai. Truth be told, I think I might like Yugi Yamada a smidge more, because her stories frequently feature very funny bickering couples, and I never get tired of that. But Yugi Yamada has done about 30 titles and Toko Kawai has done eight, all of which have been translated into English. That’s a rare thing, as I’ve mentioned before, and she’s so good it’s worth taking a look at it all.

One of the reasons I like BL romance so much is that the genre is inherently biased, taste-wise. Most titles are only one or two volumes, and if you don’t like, say, younger couples, most books aren’t going to try hard to win you over. And you know what? That’s okay, because there’s something else for you out there. Even more interesting than reader bias is when the preferences of the artist creep into their body of work. Sometimes it can be a TMI kind of experience, like when I tried to read a bunch of Hinako Takanaga one-shots and found out that her ukes generally creep me out. Reading the afterword of many BL books, you find that the authors often profess a weakness for the type of story or characters they’ve just written about, and they can fall into a pattern where they write the same type of story over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I like that the authors seem to be allowed to go with what they know, so to speak. Also, it’s more than a little funny to me.

Toko Kawai is interesting because her books are all slightly different, taste-wise. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s almost mind-blowing in the BL genre, based on my own reading experiences. Cut is a story about two abused teens who help each other out of their respective situations. Loveholic is about old friends in a photographer-salesman environment that hesitate to grow closer. In the Walnut features an established adult couple that more-or-less works at an art gallery and a story that is more mystery-of-the-week than it is romance. Each one is a little different. While none are exactly groundbreaking (though In the Walnut is very unique), in a genre where it seems like you can read hundreds of volumes of the same thing, even by artists you really like, a little variety is something special.

The real treat for me, however, is that she takes those different situations and uses them to her advantage as different environments where she can really develop her characters. I love character-centric BL books the best. All the sex in the world isn’t terribly romantic unless I can believe the two are in a relationship. And the more believable, the better. Some of her books are better than others character-wise, but one thing I do like is that many of them take established couples and investigate how a relationship grows after the consummation. That can be good or bad depending on the writer, but it’s unusual enough that it’s worth looking at here.

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Artist Spotlight: Arina Tanemura

Very rarely do we get to see a mangaka’s entire body of work in English. I can’t think of very many instances, actually. We’ve seen all of CLAMP, save for a few side projects. Rumiko Takahashi has had all her series translated into English, with the notable exception being the last 2/3rds of Urusei Yatsura. We’re missing a volume of short stories from Eiichiro Oda. We’ve seen almost all of Fumi Yoshinaga’s work, save for two one-shots and her newest series. All but the newest volume of In the Walnut may be available from Toko Kawai. So Arina Tanemura is in rare company indeed, as all her books have been translated into English at this point, save for a one-shot that came out at the end of last year in Japan.

Tanemura debuted in 1997, and has been working steadily ever since. She specializes in shoujo fantasy/romance, and her work is very much a textbook example of exactly what a shoujo manga should be. Lots of romance, action, excellent character development, a little bit of humor, unusual plot twists, and very, very pretty art.

While it’s true that her character designs are in a Ribon Magazine house style (particularly the hair and eyes), even in her very first story she uses an unusually ornate style that, while a bit stiff, was still overflowing with cute details and lacked the usual composition and flow problems young artists often have. Over the years she polished her art and made it more organic, more detailed, and now lavishes a lot of attention in particular to costumes and settings. Her books really are a feast for the eyes, and few can measure up to the insane amounts of adorable that flow off of every page.

Her work always appears in Ribon magazine, and the age range on that tends to skew slightly younger. That’s apparent in her early work, but later series become surprisingly mature, and she has a depth to her writing that makes it appeal to shoujo fans of even my age. While most of her books were published by Viz and are still in print and widely advertised, still, Tanemura is worth discussing and celebrating, and this guide can hopefully shed some light on why.

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Artist Spotlight: Senno Knife

There are many artists who were popular in the late 90s and early 2000s in the US who are completely forgotten today. And by “popular” I mean “heavily published by manga companies at the time.” I assume they were popular, because often they made convention appearances and whatnot. But nobody really reads Kia Asamiya (Silent Moebius), Masaomi Kanzaki (Heavy Metal Warrior Xenon), or even very much of Kazuo Koike (Offered) anymore, but there are plenty of bizarre relics of their popularity scattered throughout backissue bins nationwide. Hell, I found issues of Gunhed, by Kia Asamiya, in the backissues at work today. I didn’t even know that existed, and I have a manga site with 3,000 reviews on it.

One of the less conventional of these artists is Senno Knife. Unlike the others I mentioned, Senno Knife’s English catalog is completely the efforts of Studio Ironcat and its adult label Sexy Fruit. I know that Knife made convention appearances, but the largest body of his English language work was pamphlet-only releases, with only 1 graphic novel squeezed out just before Studio Ironcat went bankrupt. It’s hard to get your hands on Senno Knife today, but he’s unusual enough, and accessible enough, that it’s worth taking a look at his series.

Knife specializes in horror, specifically erotic horror. His graphic novel, Mantis Woman, isn’t erotic, but it was unusual enough that it led me back to his erotic manga releases. They’re fairly harmless softcore-type stories, as far as I’ve read, and they’re extremely cheap to come by these days, so if you’re looking for horror manga, Senno Knife might not be a bad place to start.

The images are all from Bizzarian and Sepia. It is an utter tragedy that I do not currently have my volume of Mantis Woman with me. Also, Knife is an adult artist, so some of the images are 18+ and definitely NSFW, though Knife’s art is softcore and fairly tame, so the gross-out factor is nonexistent in the images I’ve scanned. But then again, I’m a bad judge of taste, so they may still be fairly offensive.

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Artist Spotlight: You Higuri

Sometimes, I look back and am shocked by how much work certain authors have published in English. In some cases, it makes sense that we have a ton of work by, say, Rumiko Takahashi or CLAMP available. There are some artists, like Arina Tanemura or Kaori Yuki, who surprise me with their popularity since neither has had a super-popular anime in the US, but both are still fairly popular based solely on their manga.

And then there are mid-level authors like You Higuri. There’s nothing really wrong with You Higuri’s work. In fact, she’s a great artist who loves drawing detailed historical settings. Her series Gakuen Heaven and Gorgeous Carat are both fairly popular BL series. Both of those series were released by BLU in the US, but Higuri has a variety of series from many other publishers as well, none of which have been very popular. Yet here we are, with around 40 volumes of her manga from eight different series in English.

Here’s a look at her work available in English, starting from Cantarella in 2005 and working through the present.

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est em Update

At one point, I had planned on doing a lot of author-focused entries, but the problem is that I lack confidence in my knowledge. It’s not like getting the details wrong on Chameleon Army is going to incite a riot, especially if I plead ignorance beforehand, but it’s still not good.

This is a little different than what I had planned for this type of entry. I was curious to see what est em had done lately that hadn’t been translated into English, and thought others might be curious about her newer works as well, so here’s a little info. It’s not that helpful, since I’m terrified to google her name, but you might at the very least enjoy the covers.

Plus, a little info for anyone who isn’t familiar with her.

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Arakifest 09: Early Stuff

In case you missed my Jojo review earlier:  Since I share a June 7th birthday with Hirohiko Araki, I’ve decided it would be fun to call a little extra attention to all things Jojo around this time every year.  Jojo doesn’t get much love in America, I think, which is a shame because it truly deserves it.  To write an essay every year about why I like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure would be boring, because that information is readily available elsewhere on the site.  Two years ago I happened to read a volume of Jojo on my birthday, and last year I showed off some scans from the excellent Jojo a Go! Go! artbook.  This year, rather than just doing something extra in the review itself, I decided to just make a separate entry looking at other aspects of Araki/Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.  This is sort of unusual since I don’t actually create posts that aren’t reviews, but for Jojo, I can cheat a little.

Today, I’m looking at Part I of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (volumes 1-5), and an earlier series called Mashounen B.T. that I happened across in the store on Thursday.

This has been cut for spoilers, graphic violence, extreme animal cruelty, and the fact I actually display all these images instead of linking them.  All images are (C) Shueisha, Viz, and Lucky Land Communications. I honestly do hate posting images, and I know I shouldn’t have, but Araki really does have wonderful art, and it’s fun to take a look at how it changes.  If I get asked to take down the images, I will.

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