Gen 6

Shige Nakamura / Gunya Mihara / Arisa Karino / Takayuki Fujimura / Hajime Taguchi / Ryo Hanada – Gen Manga Entertainment – 2011 – 12+ volumes

I’m still playing catch-up with Gen, the underground manga anthology that comes out monthly. It’s an interesting package, and worth checking out. They actually re-launched recently, so starting with issue 11, it’s a whole new ballgame. You can read these digitally for a $1.99 monthly subscription fee for the whole lot, which is super-cheap. They also recently released collected editions of some of the stories that ran in the first 10 issues, so those are worth checking out too, if you’re not into the whole serial thing. I’ll be looking at Wolf before too long, but check them out there if you are so inclined.

Kamen, Wolf, and Souls 2 hold down the fort again, much the same as they have been since issue one. Kamen enters a lengthy and very interesting fight scene in this issue, where it looks like another supernatural contender steps up that may be a match for the mystery mask. Wolf is in the middle of a boxing match, and that gets interesting as well when Okami figures out how to counter his opponent’s punches. Exciting stuff, and it looks like the story will move on to something else next issue. Souls 2 is still better than the first installment at this point, though I’m still a little confused about the situation. I get that the two main characters are living in a sort of brothel (which will dovetail nicely with my review of Sakuran today), and that the pigeon is a sort of bright spot for them. I get that the brothel is miserable. But apparently the boy has some sort of… psychic connection with the pigeon? And the pigeon’s owner enters the story from elsewhere, unconnected? Otherwise, there’s some more dwelling on the situation at hand. I’m hoping one more installment will make things more interesting here.

Sorako returns, last seen in issue 4. I like this story a lot, though it is little more than the mundane life of Sorako, who appears to be a NEET that is too lazy to get a job. But it’s easy to sympathize with her, and I’m curious to see where the story is going from here.

Alive continues, and it appears to be a series of one-shot stories about people losing, then finding value in life. It’s a little heavy-handed, and I liked the story last volume a bit better than this one, but it’s still good in its way, and I’m looking forward to more.

Again, these issues can be a little bit of a mixed bag, but they’re so different than other manga releases, and so cheap, that they’re worth taking a look at.


Gen 5

Shige Nakamura / Yu Suzuki / Gunya Mihara / Arisa Karino / Hajime Taguchi – Gen Manga Entertainment – 2011 – 12+ volumes

I am so far behind it’s criminal. But in case you’ve forgotten, this is the anthology Gen, a monthly publication that features chapters of a handful of quirky series. Reading it online is a steal, at $2.00 per back issue, but a monthly subscription of $1.99 nets you access to all the back issues, plus the guaranteed issue for that month. They’re definitely different, and the small sum is worth it for a peek inside.

The most interesting this time around was Alive, by Hajime Taguchi. Alive was new in this issue, a fifth bonus story. A girl who is bullied contemplates suicide, and a classmate tries to show her a miracle again and again and fails. One occurs unlooked-for, and the girl manages to turn her life around. The story ends on an unsettling note, with the roles reversed in adulthood. It’s depressing, then triumphant, then super-depressing. It’s an ongoing series, so I’m looking forward to where it goes from here. It would have made an excellent one-shot, though.

Still at the front of the publication, and still as interesting as ever, is Wolf, the story of the underdog boxer. I still like reading it, though this chapter doesn’t do much to develop the characters much. Okami’s father is forced to leave the gym after their relationship is exposed, and Okami engages in a difficult fight at the end of the chapter. Strategy is failing him, and things look bleak at the end. The chapter ends mid-fight, which is a good cliffhanger for next time.

Kamen is good again, too. Again, the original story arc was my least favorite initially, but the new set of characters, the prostitutes introduced last issue, are much more interesting. A female joins the male prostitute from the last chapter, and they have a discussion about their individual worth, whether they have it good or bad, how they measure in the world, and the worth of the soul. The conversation revolves around a pigeon the female prostitute picks up, whether they can care for it, and whether they should. It’s a little heavy-handed, but interesting, at least.

Kamen moves along again, and the main character engages in a spectacular fight. I actually like this series a bit better than Wolves right now, though there’s a lot of vagueness and foreshadowing going on. Still, it’s a cool fight, and I’m up for seeing where things go from here.

Vs. Aliens… hm. This was my favorite for a while. The series ends here. The ending… I didn’t like it. It was a silly twist in a series that started out with a delightfully bizarre flavor. It ends in a rather mundane way. I was disappointed.

But! I’m interested to see what replaces it. Plus, there’s a sixth series appearing in the next issue too. I need to catch up!


Gen 4

Shige Nakamura / Yu Suzuki / Gunya Mihara / Arisa Karino – Gen Manga Entertainment – 2011 – 6+ volumes

Because I always like to plug this anthology, remember that this is offered digitally over at Gen Manga. Issue 6 just came out, which means issues 1-3 are now free. Each issue is an anthology-format magazine, with 4-5 different series in each. Give it a try, and remember that each issue is only $2.99 for unlimited access, or go here and get a subscription at $1.99 an issue.

Two good things this issue: There is now a fifth title per issue, and Souls has started a new story arc. The new entry this time around is a short story called Sorako, by Fujimura Takayuki. It’s a nice slice-of-life story about a twentysomething having doubts about her life situation. The plot is minimal, and is mostly about her lost dog, but I think that makes it even a little better. There’s city living commentary, jobless commentary, and a whole lot of ordinary, but it makes for a great read. I think one-shot stories like this suit the format of Gen, and I’m happy to see something like this in its pages.

Souls was my least favorite of the original lineup, so I was quite pleased to see the “storyteller” move on to a new client. He’s not really a storyteller, but the framing device of Souls is of a character that goes around meeting people with supernatural problems, and each story arc is about a different person. Presumably. This time, we are introduced to a male prostitute who is sold secretly from the back door of a brothel. The main character doesn’t appear until the last page, but in the meantime there’s quite an interesting living situation established for the prostitute.

VS. Aliens has been my favorite, and I like it for its abundant strangeness. This time, the plot shifts gears once again when the main character discovers something about the two female characters. Things look gloomy, but luckily it shifts gears once again at the end of the installment. I suspect issue five might be the last installment since it’s not in issue six, and it seems like the story could be wrapped up in one more installment. Then again, this series is so weird that it could change direction once again and just keep going. I’m not sure why I’m so fond of it (admittedly, the characters are a little weak, which can be fatal in a series like this), but I can’t help looking forward to it every time.

Wolf is also quite good, and probably the best series in the magazine. It’s in the middle of getting Okami wound up for his boxing career, and we get to see several successful matches and some additional training. This series has the strongest characters, and it’s easy to wrap my brain around the storyline (a man takes up boxing to try and get back at his deadbeat dad, with a lot of touching interaction with other boxers, trainers, et cetera thrown in for good measure), so it’s also easy to like. It’s a good way to open each anthology, and it’s also the story that benefits the most from the serial format, I think. Each installment reads like a small part of a larger story, where the others benefit more from being a bit baffling. If that makes sense.

Kamen has gotten a little more intense this time around, too. This story still reads like we’re being introduced to something much larger, but at least this time the main character steps in and takes action. I’m looking forward to where this is going.

Check it out, though. Again, I love that this comes out in English, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t read the first few issues if you are at all interested.

This was a review copy provided by the publisher.


Gen 3

Shige Nakamura / Yu Suzuki / Gunya Mihara / Arisa Karino – Gen Manga Entertainment – 2011 – 5+ volumes

I always like plugging this anthology, because it deserves to be read. It’s also a great deal. There are now five issues available digitally at the Gen Manga website. The first three are free, and there’s no strings attached or special viewers needed to read them. The two newer ones, issues four and five, are still only $2.99. Or even $1.99 if you click here. Check out the first three to see if the stories are your kinda thing.

I’m still really liking Wolf, VS Aliens, and Kamen. Wolf is quickly turning into my favorite story in the anthology. It’s still very low-key, and still very much about Naoto trying to reconcile and/or sort out his feelings of anger about his deadbeat father. It’s turned more towards boxing in this issue, as we find out that the straight that young Naoto practiced again and again when he was younger in hopes of showing his father has developed into a formidable punch. I was happy to see Shota, Naoto’s friend who’s training to be a sumo wrestler, reappear. I’d love to see more about that sport, actually. There were one or two moments in this issue that I felt tried to be just a little too sympathetic (usually these are comments the female trainer makes), but on the other hand, at least one of them advances the story, so it’s not that big a problem. Again, it’s very Mitsuru Adachi-like in its focus on sports and quiet contemplation of the characters, and I find that very charming.

VS Aliens once again caught my attention this issue. Last time the tone changed drastically in a more sci-fi direction, but this chapter is more character focused as the trio wait out the night and try to guard against attackers. Not much happens, but it’s still got a very strange flavor to it, and the end promises more action next time. This is the one I find myself looking forward to the most.

Mask is also still very strange, and I love the storytelling technique it’s using to introduce the setting and circumstances. We’re learning as we go, though this time is a little less complex as the Mask character and other prisoners are walked towards an execution. A scuffle breaks out, and the mask advises the main character against fighting here. I feel like I need to read this one in a larger chunk to get a better idea of what’s going on, so a re-read of the previous chapters may be necessary before the next issue. It’s worth it.

Souls, or at least the first story, ends in this issue. This is the only story that has disappointed me, and it basically wraps up with the mother and daughter in each other’s arms, apologizing to one another under bittersweet circumstances. I like the character design on the “exorcist” character. I don’t really have anything to say about this, other than the fact the last chapter was still fairly messy and I couldn’t really drum up any interest in it. I don’t mind this type of story though, and I’d be willing to give it another chance, hoping that the exorcist encounters a more interesting problem next time.

The next issue adds a story, which is pretty exciting. As much as I like the current stories, I’m always curious to see what kind of content can run alongside them.

This was a review copy provided by Gen Manga.


Gen 2

Shige Nakamura / Yu Suzuki / Gunya Mihara / Arisa Karino – Gen Manga Entertainment – 2011 – 3+ volumes

Yay, the second issue! Actually, the third issue is out at this point, too, so you can grab the digital copy for cheap by going here. Only $1.99 an issue, which is a pretty sweet deal. I still really like the idea of a doujinshi-style underground anthology, and am still finding the stories pretty intriguing. All four of the stories from the first issue continue in this installment.

It’s still mostly the first three stories I’m fond of at this point. “Wolf” is still the strongest in my mind, something like a cross between the styles Yoshihiro Tatsumi (for being somewhat bleak and depressing) and Mitsuru Adachi (sports-oriented, and starting to focus on family a lot more). Naoto and his father continue to hash out their differences in the ring, but both find it slightly more uplifting this time. We also get the full story about why Naoto’s father left Tokyo, and learn that there might be some romantic interest afoot with one of the trainers at the gym. There’s a lot of meat to this one, though the pace is still fairly slow and the art a little rough.

I’m still partial to “VS Aliens,” though even I have to admit the endearing randomness from the last installment is getting a bit complicated. Whereas last time we had a girl who thought a classmate was an alien, the so-called alien classmate, and a boy who wants to help both girls… this time a kernel of truth to the story throws the charming dynamic off-balance and turns this into more of an X-Files kind of story, with the trio fleeing in the night, clutching a mysterious note and… well, other things. I’m a little afraid the charm will be gone completely in another installment or two, but maybe it will have turned into something else by then. I do like stories that can pull off a change in direction successfully.

Kamen is also shaping up to be a pretty strong story. The most interesting element, and the part I wanted to hear more about, is the silent warrior wearing the mask, the mask communicating with this man telepathically and letting him know of great powers. This man is taken into the middle of a city that’s about to execute all its prisoners, so I’m pretty sure we’ll find out exactly what the mask does in another issue or two. Unfortunately, the latter half of this chapter gets bogged down in somewhat uninteresting politics, but without that explanation, there would be no executions, so it was a necessary evil.

And… I’m still lost with “Souls.” I like the idea. A grieving mother coming to terms with the death of her daughter. I think. At this point, however, I can’t tell if the mother drove the daughter to suicide, if the mother murdered the daughter, or if the daughter is actually still alive. We get insight into the sad life of the mother, and that’s something, but it’s still hard for me to tell what’s going on here. Perhaps it will become more clear next time, though.

I’m a bit more critical this time, but honestly, I’m still pretty interested in all these stories, even Souls. These are fairly different than any other commercially available manga, and I love that they’ve been translated in English. Give them a try, because I’d love to see more of this in English, and that can only happen if you support it now.

This was a review copy provided by Gen Manga.


Gen 1

Shige Nakamura / Yu Suzuki / Gunya Mihara / Arisa Karino – Gen Manga Entertainment – 2011 – 1+ volumes

Okay guys, I’m pretty excited about this. Gen is a new digital anthology that publishes underground-type manga short stories from Japan. All of them are previously unpublished, I believe, so in a sense, it’s something like a doujinshi magazine in English. Check it out at genmanga.com. There’s a generous sample available right now, the entire first issue, and you can subscribe and receive the monthly updates for issues 2 and further. The usual subscription price is $3 per issue, but you can get a discounted subscription by following this link, and get the second issue for only $2. That is a pretty sweet deal.

The issue I’m reviewing here is the one that’s available for free on their front page, so feel free to check it out if you’re at all interested. I’m going to do a follow-up next week with issue two, where all four of the stories are continued.

I think this is quite interesting, since this isn’t a format we often see in English. The underground manga that we normally see is usually from tried-and-true artists and their best stories. That’s fair, considering that printing is an investment and going off the beaten path is very risky. I’m glad that digital publication opens the way for more unusual, less proven work however, and I’m very thrilled that this collection exists.

This first issue has about 80 pages of content, and I’ll just go ahead and start with the first story, Wolf by Nakamura Shige. The art is very, very reminiscent of Yoshihiro Tatsumi and what I’ve seen of the late 60s gekiga/underground scene, too. The content isn’t that far off, either. The story starts with a young man boarding a train to the city. We find out that he’s traveling to become a professional sumo wrestler, and he meets another, very aggressive boy on the train. Naoto, the aggressive boy, picks some fights on the train, and later goes to a boxing dojo to engage more people in fights.

The storytelling technique is a little rough around the edges (some of the transitions are abrupt, and the flow of time is a little strange), but the narrative is sophisticated in the way that some of the best gekiga stories are. We aren’t shown the thoughts of the characters, and only know as much about them as they decide to tell others. It’s a technique I’m quite fond of, and it’s not often you get to see “show, don’t tell” in a manga. I also like that one of the boys was studying to become a sumo wrestler (though Naoto seems to be the focus of the story), and that the story seems to be moving in the direction of being about actual, professional training for sports.

The second story is VS Aliens, by Suzuki Yu. This is a bizarre story told in three chapters, about a group of three high school students. Aya approaches Kitaro out of the blue to help her with a problem: one of the students in their school is an alien. Of course, only Aya sees her that way. Kitaro approaches this student, Sana, and asks her point blank about it. Sana is confused, but approaches Kitaro the next day worried that she might really be an alien.

It’s less comedic than it sounds. As bizarre as the premise is, the focus of the story is on the character dynamics. Kitaro is a nice guy, and genuinely wants to help Aya out. Aya really, truly does think that Sana is an alien. Sana has a normal reaction to being asked if she is an alien, rather than over-the-top comedic. And, bizarrely, she takes it under advisement. These are all normal people being run through a weird situation. I’m not quite sure where it’s going, but it was my favorite in the magazine, and after the bizarre cliffhanger, I’m curious to see where it’s going.

Mask, by Mihara Gunya, is third in line. It’s set in pseudo-feudal Japan, and the chapter offers a very brief setup. A man wakes up with a talking mask on his face. An army that’s taking prisoners is on the march. Said army finds the man, and engage him in battle. The mask may… offer some sort of power, but it’s unclear whether the man will decide to take advantage of it. It’s interesting so far, but I need to read more to decide whether I like it or not. That it’s taking its time to set things up is promising.

The fourth and final story is Souls, by Karino Arisa. Of the four, this one was the most confusing. A woman invites a traveler out of the rain, only to be verbally abused by her mother. We then find out that the woman… may be dead, and that the traveler might have come to help the mother grieve, or to help the soul pass on? I was having a hard time understanding this one, but again, I’d like to read more before I pass judgment. The storytelling is a little rough around the edges (I had a hard time figuring out if the woman was dead or not, or whether we were seeing flashbacks, or whether there was some second sight involved, et cetera), but some of the confusion might be intentional, a mystery to be solved in a later installment.

Overall, I was very pleased with the content offered in the first issue. The stories were actually more polished than I thought they would be going into the collection, and all the art is very professional-looking. I was also very surprised by how much I liked VS Aliens, and I’m curious about the continuations of Wolf and Mask. I’m a big manga fan, obviously, and am probably more than a little biased, but I think there are plenty of people who would be interested in stories like these, stuff than comes from a non-commercial outlet. Again, you can check out the first issue for free, and if you like what you see, follow this link to get the next issue for $2.

This was a review copy provided by the publisher.


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