Kingyo Used Books 3

January 2, 2012

Seimu Yoshizaki – Viz – 2011 –

Apparently I skipped this volume. I’m not sure how I forgot about it. It’s got a Kazuo Umezu book on the cover. One I’ve talked about here before.

I tend to enjoy this series for the historical information it offers as supplements to its stories, rather than the stories themselves. But it’s hard to complain when the volume opens with a double-page spread of a girl asking for Kazuo Umezu manga. He’s one of my absolute favorites. The first story revolves around a club that meets to talk about just how scary Kazz manga is, and a man who can’t handle scary stories trying to get close to the leader of the Umezu group. A lot of his manga comes up, but Mori no Kyodai is the book on the cover and the subject of a trivia question in the chapter itself.

The second chapter is a story about a young woman struggling with her design career that visits Kingyo and has her spirits lifted when she finds Sailor Moon, a series she enjoyed immensely when she was young. I hate that series, so… a biased failing grade on that chapter. I liked the next chapter about Sanpei Shirato manga better, though. Again, it was fun because it made me want to read Sanpei Shirato, not because I liked the story about men getting together at the zoo. Though it wasn’t a bad story per se, just not that memorable.

The last half of the book mostly covers topics related to manga distribution and collecting. One chapter talks about the sedori profession, people that go from bookstore to bookstore, buying items that are marked down at one and selling them to a store that can mark them up. This is more about the sedori characters than it is their job, and again, I’m not very attached to the characters, so I was more interested in what they were doing and how they were evaluating the collections. As someone that works at a used bookstore in the US, I can tell you the American equivalent of sedori are some of the most infuriating barterers that I’ve ever met in my life. I’m sorry, you are not entitled to a discount because you are going to resell this. No, I will not mark that down for you. No, no sales today. No, I don’t have any coupons to give you. Don’t do this at the register when we have a line, please. Or ever.

Other chapters cover lending libraries, rental manga, and book restoration, all of which are topics I’m interested in, but again… if you’re not a huge book nerd, the stories don’t really make up for the fact the topics aren’t gripping stuff.

But if you are a huge book nerd, as well as a manga geek, there’s a lot to like here.

Kingyo Used Books 4

October 3, 2011

Seimu Yoshizaki – Viz – 2011 – 11+ volumes

Again, I’m torn on this series. On one hand, I am genuinely fascinated by all the manga tidbits and history included with the chapters. The bonus content in the back, with one page dedicated to explaining one “legendary” manga series per chapter, is an especially nice touch. I’d keep reading the series for this information alone.

Which is great, because I’m less thrilled by the actual short stories. This time around, none of them are really about the young man and woman that run the store (though one story is about Natsuki’s parents). The stories seem to be increasingly about the incidental customers at the bookstore, and many characters from previous stories are beginning to re-appear and connect with more of Kingyo’s clientele. I don’t remember these characters very well, though I don’t think that matters terribly much. Each story is self-contained, so you don’t have to remember each of the customers from story to story.

My favorite this time around was “An Odd Couple,” about an older man and a young boy trying to stop an arsonist who is setting fires next to used bookstores in the neighborhood (as an aside, it blows my mind that Japan has neighborhood that can support multiple used bookstores). The older man is a 60s shoujo manga otaku, and the younger boy is a new customer to Kingyo. They’re both rather sarcastic and short-tempered, but they make a really funny pairing. Plus, the clue is a character from a Moto Hagio manga, and learning about her is never boring.

There’s a short story in the very back (the bonus manga for the volume) about the evolution of a logo for a particular line of Shueisha educational manga. I got a perverse amount of pleasure out of the incredibly mundane subject matter. Really, I imagine learning about the evolution of a logo they’ve never even seen would bore the pants off most people. I found it rather fascinating, though.

Other stories in the volume include a young couple who find a common language in Ranma 1/2, a magician that uses manga to connect to his clientele of elderly patrons, a young boy who discovers the visceral horrors of Go Nagai and Devilman, a story about a geeky-looking man who takes offense to good-looking men geeking out in Kingyo… all of them have the warm feel-good twist at the end. None of them are bad, and I enjoy reading the volume. But they are rather mundane stories. I think they probably read a lot better in short bursts, or even in context with the rest of Ikki magazine. Actually, I bet the stories are a great fit there. There’s such a diverse group of stories in that magazine that short stories on the history of manga probably fit right in.

This probably isn’t a series for anybody but hardcore manga buffs. But for anybody that, say, has a manga website with thousands of entries, many obsessing over stylistic links and art and story evolution in manga, it’s a great read. There’s no other place to get a lot of this information in English, and for that alone, I’ll keep reading.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Kingyo Used Books 2

January 27, 2011

Seimu Yoshizaki – Viz – 2010 – 11+ volumes

I may have said this last time, but 11 volumes? Yikes.

This volume continues to have a smattering of short stories that share Kingyo Used Books in common. Some are about customers who visit the store and how manga affects their lives, and some are about the employees and the store itself. All feature one particular manga series prominently, with the series profiled in the back.

My impression hasn’t really changed from last volume, which is a shame because I really want to like this series. I do like it, and I love all that it has to teach about its various featured manga series. But the stories and characters are just… not that interesting. I think the Kingyo employees, including the buyers that frequent the store and the relationship that seems to be heavily implied between Naoaki and Natsuki, could be interesting with a little more development, and I think the one-shots involving manga could be a lot of fun, too. But the stories that we get are lukewarm. A hostess reading manga stories to an abandoned child? A boy standing up to a bully because he read Adolf? Troubled young boys ride a train because there’s one that takes you to the ends of the galaxy in Galaxy Express 999? All the one-shots are pretty heavy-handed and feelgood, and that’s a shame. There are a hundred stories you could write about people reading manga. Maybe these will get more interesting as the series progresses. The main characters are mostly a framing device for the one-shots, but when the spotlight is turned on them? We get a story about Natsuki’s troubled parents and one about her working hard at the store. Hmm.

There were a couple cute moments in the volume, though. One of the one-shots was about burly men buying girly manga. The story was, again, pretty lukewarm, but it was such a cute idea, and I loved watching the manly ouendan member (ooh, second time in a week, Dragon Girl) talk about how much he liked Chichi. I also liked the short story at the end about Natsuki’s grandfather. He faked a knowledge about clovers and flowers on the spines of some manga. He spun a wonderful yarn that was even better when we found out what the real story was.

But I’m going to continue picking it up simply because it has such detailed information about obscure manga in it. I am a huge geek, and while I can get better characters and stories elsewhere, there’s no other series in English that will teach me as much as this one. The Rose and the Ring, by Fujiko Fujio, is an adaptation of a Thackeray story (!!!) and is also one of the rarest books floating around – it was only published as a supplement in Shoujo Club, and only twelve copies are known to exist. There’s also better-known works spotlighted, such as Tezuka’s Adolf and Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999, and popular but unknown in English series such as Jarinko Chie (67 volumes) and Chiisana Koi no Monogatari (40 volumes, but at one volume a year since 1970, it’s one of the longest-running manga time-wise). It’s interesting stuff, and really, it’s why this series is worth reading.

Again, I can’t see anybody but manga geeks really getting into this, but I do hope it continues. I’d love to see it touch on other work, and I do learn a lot with every volume even if I’m still not warming up to the stories. And again, it’s worth sampling for free on Viz’s Ikki site. You don’t have to read the chapters in order, and it will give you an idea just how much manga is discussed and what a broad range it has in that respect.

Kingyo Used Books 1

May 10, 2010

Seimu Yoshizaki – Viz – 2010 – 10+ volumes

On one hand, it’s crazy people like me that are the ones reading this series.  This covers a wide and fascinating array of popular and obscure manga from 1940 through today, and in addition to the characters constantly name-dropping series that are summarized in the margins, there’s also commentary in the back about the featured title from each chapter.  I learned a LOT about manga from this volume.  Remember how I wouldn’t shut up about how great A Drifting Life was last year?  This is the same sort of thing, except A Drifting Life is far better at contextualizing its series and giving them a place and historical significance.

Also, because it can’t be said enough times, a huge thanks to Drawn and Quarterly for translating Black Blizzard.  I’m still blown away I can read that in English.

On the other hand, I work in a used bookstore.  I read the first chapter of this on Viz’s Ikki site, and I nearly burst into tears because IT’S NOTHING LIKE THAT AT ALL.  I was happy that the entire volume wasn’t full of stories of weepy customers finding their way thanks to the manga in Kingyo, because even with the bonus manga history, I couldn’t have read it.  For every story of an old woman carefully wrapping her valuable books in plastic so that they wouldn’t get ruined in the event her roof caved in during a rainstorm, I think of a buy where a manager and I had to sift through ten boxes of rotten, moldy books with rubber gloves on in order to give a customer a fair price.  For every cheerful sedori in Kingyo, I think of the reseller who tries to harass me into giving them an expensive textbook at a deep discount.  For every American expat commenting on the peculiar aroma in Kingyo, I’m reminded of the powerful maple syrup odor a customer left behind that lasted several hours.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  Awesome job.  I can relate to Shiba, the big geek, since I’ve seen a ton of awesome stuff while working there.  And we have lots of great customers that love books.  But it’s the bad experiences that stick in your mind when you read an overly sentimental take on it like this.

I liked the series well enough.  The stories themselves are unremarkable, with each chapter dedicated to telling a story about a character (sometimes characters connected to Kingyo, sometimes strangers), and the stories always feature a manga series somehow, be it a re-discovery that makes them re-focus on what’s important, or bonding with new or old friends over a particular title.  It’s the manga history that really gives it its character, and with almost all of the series nearly unheard of in the U.S., there will be little name recognition for readers.  But for big geeks like me, it’s an amazing learning experience.

Basically, I liked nitpicking the bookstore setting, and I loved the manga history, but stripped of those two elements, I probably wouldn’t have liked it much.  That might change in future volumes as the main cast (the family that works at the bookstore and the possible beau/manga geek) is developed a bit more, but for the time being… I bought Magnolia Sho and Blueberry after reading it, for what it’s worth.

Also, they stress that comics outside Japan will occasionally pop up (one of the chapters featured Blueberry, a French comic by Girard/Moebius).  I’m holding out for a Judge Dredd chapter.

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