Nao Tsukiji – JManga – 2012 – 5+ volumes
This was one of my early favorites in the JManga lineup, so I was quite pleased when the second volume popped up recently.
It’s an anthology-style series, and has a dark mystery/horror flavor to its one-shot stories. The Taisho era setting gives the stories a more unique flavor, and they tend to verge off the beaten path of the usual mystery fare. One is a protection case where Kojiro is assigned to protect the daughter of a famous sculptor, who a priest predicts will be sacrificed to their God. In another, Kojiro and the police are trying to talk a kind of psychologist out of releasing murderers from prison under the guise of being “rehabilitated.” In another, the police are investigating a murderer that performs taxidermy on their victims, and the investigation takes them to a truly bizarre place. One chapter is split between two lighter stories, one about a criminal that Shiro runs into, and another about a game of strip chess that Shiro plays with Kojiro with loincloths on the line. I learned a lot about loincloths from that story!
Admittedly, a lot of the stories involve murder, and in the end, are set up by Shiro’s brother somehow. But the main characters don’t come face-to-face with Shiro’s brother in this volume, and I’m content to read these one-shots while the main plot idles. They’re quite good, and as strange and different as the plots are, Tsukiji really makes them shine with her artwork and strange settings. In the story about the sculptor, much of it takes place in his residence, which is decked out with a good number of large bronze sculptures of deities, intertwined and larger than life. The effect is a bit overpowering and very Bosch-like, and it lends an even more creepy atmosphere to the story. In the taxidermy chapter, the characters trail a famous taxidermist to a mansion where a woman collects her prey. She wears remarkable outfits made from bits of animals, and as ghoulish as that sounds (it is), it’s absolutely incredible to look at. As are the themed rooms in her house.
The stories themselves sometimes… well, aren’t that well-constructed. They suit my tastes just fine, since they tend to take a number of crazy, sometimes nonsensical turns. But perhaps true mystery fans will be disappointed.
And, yeah. It’s still pretty erotic, too, despite not being even remotely sexual. It doesn’t cross into overt BL territory, and probably never will. But Tsukiji art is far more suggestive than even some of the dirtiest BL I’ve read. Fans will likely be pleased.
I wish it were in paperback, and I wish it came out faster. Other than that, I love it to pieces, and I’ve got the artbook sitting in my shopping cart waiting to check out as we speak. I’m a happy fan.
Nao Tsukiji – JManga / Shinshokan – 2011 – 4+ volumes
Hey, guess what. I tried out the new JManga site. While it is a little more than I’d like to pay, there’s a metric ton of content there. You can happen into the occasional series with no working preview, or only the first chapter available, but there’s also plenty there to read if you are so inclined. Which I am. I tried Anesthesiologist Hana first, but that one was boring, so I ditched it in the middle for Adekan.
The premise had me. An umbrella maker that hates wearing underwear and a police officer that solve mysteries together in 1910s Japan. I can’t help what I like. Unfortunately, it ran in Wings, which means it’s ultimately going to be a waste of a good romance manga. There’s innuendo on just about every page, but I’m fairly certain that Shiro and Koujiro will never get together.
Having said that, it’s still awesome. The best thing about it is the art, which is high praise coming from me. Tsukiji has amazingly detailed artwork, and the time period means that she gets to show it off with elaborate period costumes and settings. The character designs are highly individualistic, facial expressions are great, and poses and gestures are exaggerated very strangely. One of my favorite touches to her costumes were the knee-high white spats that the police officers wear. She also has a wonderful fluid movement to everything, and excellent composition, which only gets better during the action scenes. The trade-off to that is that sometimes the panel order and flow is a little confusing, but I only had trouble with a few pages. But the art is so good that it helps inform the characters as well, such as the slovenly way that Shiro dresses and lays around the pages, the stiffness given only to Saburouta, things like that. The art is incredible. It makes me sorry that DMP didn’t get to jump on this so that I could see it in print. It would have made an awesome DokiDoki title.
The plot is equally interesting, though. Adekan takes place in a fairly sleazy Taisho-era Japan, so the crimes tend to be serial killings, human trafficking, eccentric hidden weapons experts with no conscience, et cetera. In sharp contrast to this, the one ultimately fighting and solving all these crimes is the morally upright Koujiro, a police officer who takes an immediate liking to Shiro, the umbrella maker, in the first chapter. Unusually, Koujiro doesn’t let the rampant and horrible crimes get him down. He’s a fairly cheery guy, and is the most serious when he’s warning Shiro or his little sister away from dangerous areas. It’s actually Shiro who does a lot of the investigating for Koujiro, but Koujiro always gets to play the hero in the end.
And… I don’t like admitting this, but it is amazingly erotic for not actually having any romance in it. Shiro dresses in a very lazy style of traditional Japanese dress (like a male yukata) that is usually falling off of him and bunched around the waist. He’s frequently jumping through the air, contorting during a fight, or laying all over the floor of his house. In case mostly-naked Shiro doesn’t do it for you, Koujiro has an old-style police uniform with a high collar, old-fashioned hat, and the knee-high spats I mentioned earlier for all the uniform fetishists out there. Fights frequently end with Koujiro stepping in to grab the near-naked Shiro out of the air, then “rescuing” him (Shiro doesn’t need rescued, since he’s a master of hidden weapons, yet another fetish-y thing). Shiro also claims to be a sadist, and at one point, he gives his own brother a body paint job. Yet another scene has Shiro sizing Koujiro for a pair of shoes, which is likely for the foot fetishists out there. Early on in the book, there are at least a couple scenes where both Koujiro and Shiro have discussions about wearing underwear (in this series, traditional fundoshi), then demonstrate proper and improper wear in front of each other. Often, chapters end with Shiro’s yukata falling open and revealing that he’s not wearing any.
I’ve never seen such calculated button-pressing. It would be near-pornographic if it went any farther. And that’s the point, I suppose.
One thing that did bother me were some anachronistic references. They popped up frequently enough to make me wonder if this was Taisho-era Japan, or some sort of alternate history present or something. I don’t know if that was an issue with the translation (which, by the way, was rough around the edges) or the original. The reference to super saiyan hair on Saburoku makes me think at least some of it was in the original.
But otherwise, I am all over this series. The period setting and amazing art would be enough for me, but I also like the characters and mystery aspects of it, too. As a lover of romances, it’s a shame that there will never be anything between Shiro and Koujiro, but I’ll keep reading and pretending anyway.
One thing about the content in Wings is that sometimes it comes out at glacial speed, such as Immortal Rain and the works of Hakase Mizuki. Adekan started its run in 2008, which is a little more than one volume a year. Not that much. Luckily, it looks like it’s still running, and it’s even on the front cover of Wings this month. Hopefully we won’t hit any lengthy snags like Immortal Rain, and hopefully it’ll keep coming out on JManga.