Alas, I’m more than a week early, but today is the day I’m going to talk about the Manga Moveable Feast topic for this month. Hosted by Kate over at the Manga Critic, this month’s discussion focuses on the Viz Signature imprint.
Kate posted a helpful list at the link above, but there’s another over at the Viz website. Interestingly, I noticed that some of those titles are from the old Editor’s Choice imprint. Editor’s Choice was simply the precursor to Signature, but the theme of the imprints are probably about the same. They both encompass the most awesome manga titles you can find in English. Take it from someone who knows. I just now realized I own every manga title on that list except Biomega. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it does mean I know my way around the titles rather intimately. And I can say they really are that good.
So, what makes a Viz Signature book? In general, it seems like it’s simply the best of the best. In reality, it’s probably more like… titles that are not Shounen Sunday, Shounen Jump, or shoujo titles. But if Viz sees fit to license a title that does not fit into one of those three safe categories, chances are it’s worth reading. They tend to be for an older audience, seinen or josei-flavored, and somewhat more literary than your usual manga title. But not always! For every Phoenix, there’s a Detroit Metal City. Ooku is balanced out with Black Lagoon. All of them are well-written and entertaining, in their way, though some take more convincing than others. There’s also a lot of genres represented. Horror, action, romance, sci-fi, historical, high school, professionals, sports, music… if you like it, there’s probably a manga title for you in the Viz Signature imprint. And odds are, it’s actually going to be pretty great.
So let me talk about some of my favorites! I didn’t realize until I began writing the article how essential the Viz Signature line was to my reading habits, nor that I actually had all of them, so it turns out I’m fond of quite a few of them. So… how about a top ten of my favorites? Not the best ones, mind you, but my favorites. Keep in mind I sometimes like some pretty awful manga, and what I like isn’t always the best. But I do like all these to pieces, and I can vouch for the fact the Signature imprint has never printed an awful book, so all of these are at least worth some of your time.
So, as I mentioned last week, the Manga Moveable Feast is currently on over at The Manga Critic, hosted by Kate. I posted a longer article last week, a guide to all the English-language editions of Tezuka titles, which is my more meaningful contribution. But I like Tezuka a lot, and I’ve written about him frequently. I’ve reviewed just about every volume published in English, save for Buddha and a couple of the most recent releases. I’ve also written a couple other articles on other topics, too, and I thought that it might be a good idea to collect all of it in one place.
This month’s Manga Moveable Feast can only be horror manga. It’s hosted over at Manga Xanadu by Lori Henderson, and I would advise you to check out all the awesome content over there. There’s no party like a Halloween party, and horror manga is literally one of my favorite topics ever.
I had a hard time coming up with something to talk about this year. I talk about horror manga all the time, especially around Halloween, and I’ve been doing this for seven or whatever years now. I’ve already talked about Hideshi Hino, Kazuo Umezu, Junji Ito, psychological horror, over-the-top grotesque horror, and all sorts of good and awful horror manga over the years.
I thought about discussing shoujo horror manga in general, by time period and the anthologies they came out in, but very few have been released in English. And while I’m familiar with anthologies like Bonita, Suspiria, Halloween, and Nemuki, I haven’t read enough to make any comparisons.
My roommate, who has probably read every horror comic published in America between 1940-1980, suggested I do a comparison between American and Japanese 70s horror comics for girls. I thought that was a fine idea. He provided me with much of the info for the American side of the equation and gave me a lot of good ideas about comparing and contrasting the two.
In the interest of international balance, I also tried to get issues of Misty, a British horror comic for girls published in the 70s, but the issues are extremely rare and expensive, at least on eBay. I believe some of the stories are written by Pat Mills, who is comparable to Kazuo Umezu in terms of influence and utterly insane stories. Everything he writes is solid gold.
This month’s Manga Moveable Feast is a celebration of all things Fumi Yoshinaga, as hosted by Kristin over at Comic Attack. Go check out the other content, because there is A LOT to say about Fumi Yoshinaga. I feel a little bad I didn’t write a real article instead of an overview, because there are dozens of topics that are worth covering related to her. But instead, here’s a little walk through all her work published in English.
This is a long one, so I’m going to put the rest of this behind a cut.
This month’s Moveable Manga Feast, hosted by David Welsh over at Manga Curmudgeon, is focused on Fruits Basket. There’s lots of other wonderful content about the series over there, all of it worth checking out.
First, let me start off by saying I did not have the pleasure of re-reading the series for the MMF this month. Unfortunately, my volumes are stored in another state at the moment, so I couldn’t lay hands on them. Thus, my thoughts are mostly still of my initial read-through of the series, though I have read the first 10 or so volumes twice through once upon a time. My opinions might also be a little stale since I finished the series a couple years ago at this point (and also light or hazy on detail), but hopefully I can convey some of my thoughts here.
I did review the series as it was coming out right here, so you may feel like following along with my fresh impressions as I read the volumes over the course of several years.
One thing I do remember: it was hard for me to put the volumes down. Once I started in on them, I tore through every single one. It’s an absolutely charming series. I compared it to Oh My Goddess early on, as the first volumes of Fruits Basket are loosely connected short stories that are all about the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from good deeds, earnest relationship-building, and the motherly aura that Tohru Honda radiates in general. As each member of the Sohma family is introduced initially, all the stories are a little funny, a little sweet, and well-written enough to break out of the usual shoujo mold. This is true all the way through, actually, though it does start to get much darker after the first five volumes.
The characters are all easy to like. Homeless Tohru Honda, so eager to please and feeling unworthy of the roof over he head, has no idea just how much the three Sohma men grow to rely on her in such a short time, and how easily both Yuki and Kyo begin to fall for her. Yuki’s princely aura, and Kyo’s mild troublemaking all fit the usual character types, but Takaya manages to still make them far more likable than they ought to be. And this continues to be true all the way through the series, from Tohru’s eccentric friends that stick with her to the end, to every single member of the Sohma household, even the tertiary characters on the student council that are introduced much later manage to support their own stories and make them interesting.
The themes of belonging are also easy to relate to. We may not all be poor orphans with a heart of gold, but the metaphor of the children’s game of fruits basket, where all the other children pretend to be fruit while Tohru is a rice ball, destined to forever be set apart from them, is something almost everybody can relate to, and Takaya does a good job of summing it up in that scene and throughout the stories in all 23 volumes. As for the drama… well, we all have the dark places too, and a lot of the character hang-ups are easy to sympathize with.
To celebrate the Rumiko Takahashi-centric Manga Moveable Feast this month, hosted by Rob over at Panel Patter, we took the opportunity to do a roundtable over at Manga Village that looks at Takahashi as a gateway into manga fandom for us. Check it out over at Manga Village.
I talked about it a little bit here already, but I go into more detail during the roundtable, plus I get to talk about Mermaid Saga some more, which is never a bad thing. Also, Rin-ne makes for a good point of contention.
This month’s focus for the Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Rob over at Panel Patter, is Rumiko Takahashi and all the wonderful things she’s written. I linked Rob’s front page because he’s got a lot of interesting Takahashi-centric content going on right now, but you should also check out his archives for his year-long focus on Takahashi.
Anyway, Takahashi. I think she’s one of those “fans of a certain age” authors, where in addition to having her entire body of work available in English (with the exception of, like, 2/3rds of Urusei Yatsura), she generates a lot of interesting conversation as a “first time” author for a lot of older fans. I’m guilty of that. Ranma 1/2 was the first graphic novel I ever picked up, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I even recall cracking open the cover when I was 14, getting a few pages in, then slamming the book shut, scandalized, when Ranma and Akane’s bare breasts appeared. Back then, I had to mail order my manga (and walk barefoot to school through five feet of snow), so I didn’t know what was in the book before I bought it. I hid it under my bed and wasn’t brave enough to look at it again for the week. But my love for the bizarre gender-swap comedy overrode my fear of nudity, and I wound up buying a lot of her other work while I was in high school. Granted, there wasn’t much available at the time for girls (and we also amused ourselves by going out and dancing the lindy hop on Fridays in the town square), but Takahashi’s quirky ideas and unique sense of humor still stand out to this day, even with thousands of volumes of alternatives.
Anyway, I’ve had this site for seven years or so, and in that time, I’ve talked about Rumiko Takahashi A LOT. I’ve got some more stuff to look at this week, but in the meantime, here’s a little list of everything I’ve taken a look at through the years.
There’s Ranma 1/2, of course. The last volume came out in 2006, and I don’t have a whole lot of Ranma content since I read most of it before I started the site. I’ve probably read the early volumes of Ranma 1/2 more than any other series, because with no alternatives as a teen, I would read them over and over again. They’re funny, and stay that way through multiple readings. This series has a couple different editions, including old large-format $14.98-or-so volumes that go through volume 21. At that point, the series switched to the smaller $9.98 format, and all the early volumes were reprinted to match. I could’ve sworn there was an unflipped VizBig edition, but alas, it does not exist. Ranma 1/2 is the perfect series for that format, though.
Similarly, my favorite of Takahashi’s series is not covered on this site because I read it before I started here. It’s the superb Mermaid Saga, where Takahashi makes the horrifying legend of immortal mermaid flesh her own and does a straight-up horror manga, with plenty of violence and none of her typical humor. It was reprinted not that long ago, but I’m fond of my older editions.
Conversely, I’m not fond of her newest series, the supernaturally-themed Rin-ne. It’s kind of like Inu-Yasha, but Rin-Ne and Sakura bust ghosts for classmates, whereas Inu-Yasha and Kagome kill demons as a survival strategy. Rin-Ne and Sakura have yet to grab my interest at all, and the goofier supernatural threats in Rin-Ne still aren’t quite up to either the gags in Ranma 1/2 or the supernatural coolness on display in Inu-Yasha. But I read it, and love it, because Rumiko Takahashi writes it.
I’m least familiar with Maison Ikkoku, her straight-up romance series. I promise I’ll read it when a customer sells them at the used bookstore I work at. I have read the beginning and the end, though. I have to say the first volume put me off with its somewhat tired jokes and tropes, but I know Takahashi has it in her to make all these characters likable. Also of note is the Hiroshi Aro series that… uh, parallels this one, called You and Me. I like Hiroshi Aro a lot, and You & Me is bizarre if nothing else. Only seven issues came out in English, and they’re uncollected.
I’ve also only read a little bit of Urusei Yatsura, her first series. I keep waiting for Viz to come back to it, and I’m hoping VizBig is the way to go for this. But the one-volume Perfect Edition is such a wonderful collection of madcap and utterly insane nonsequitors that it’s an absolute joy to read. The dated translation only adds to it, I feel. And I love that everything and anything can be explained away with aliens. Also, that Ataru is still one of the perviest manga characters of all time. I also have a soft spot for the movie adaptations of this series.
And that brings us to Inu-Yasha, her magnum opus. I’m late to the party on this one, I think the last volume just came out in English. 56 volumes is quite a formidable length, but I jumped on board with the VizBig editions, which are a great deal money-wise and make collecting less daunting (though 19 huge volumes is… still a lot). I can’t get over the fact that Takahashi has made an honest-to-goodness couple of Inu-Yasha and Kagome almost immediately, since one of her favorite devices is keeping the main couple “separate” through the end of the series. Also awesome are the constant monster fights, which would be boring in any other series (and almost are here, as well) except for the fact that Takahashi’s monster designs and knack with mythology are first rate. I also love the struggles of Inu-Yasha while he discovers new powers and tries to figure out if he likes being human or demon best, and whether he likes Kagome or Kikyo, his love of the past. It’s great stuff, and the three-volume omnibus is a necessary length when I blow through the volumes so fast.
Last, but not least, is One Pound Gospel, an easy-to-miss but still worthy gem. It was written over the span of 20 years, only finished recently. It follows the simple heart of Kosaku, an amateur boxer who falls in love with Sister Angela. She cheers for him as he struggles with weight limits for his fights and making friends and enemies of his opponents. A little bit funny and a little bit sweet, four volumes was just the right length. This also has two different English editions, but the newer 4-volume edition has the ending that the old 3-volume edition doesn’t… and I want to say the 3-volume edition is also missing some other stories.
And that’s a quick look at all of her major series, sans summaries since you can read the reviews for that. Be sure to check out more Takahashi-themed commentary at Panel Patter this week (there are literally volumes of interesting topics about Rumiko Takahashi), and I’m hoping to have some more content myself in a day or so.