Nao Tsukiji – Shinshokan – 2011 – ISBN 9784403650499

JManga beat me to the punch! I logged on to the internet to write this article (it’s Thursday, so I’m doing it early), and JManga announced they’d be releasing a digital edition of this on their site next week. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first artbook they’ve offered. And it’s totally worth it.

I’m beginning to have a hard time introducing these artbook articles, because most of them start off with “this is one of the prettiest books I own.” Well, I only buy them if I think I’m really going to enjoy them, and I only cover my absolute favorites here, so this is going to be true every time. But Nostalgia is special. Nostalgia really is jaw-dropping gorgeous. I might like this better than some, or almost all, of the CLAMP books I own.

Tsukiji Nao writes Adekan, the first volume of which is available on
JManga. It’s set in Taisho-era Japan (1910s or so), and stars a police officer, an umbrella maker who is also a hidden weapons expert, and the skeevie crimes that are committed around them. As that, it is pretty great, but the more intriguing thing about Adekan is its ability to be one of the smuttiest manga I’ve ever read without actually having sex or naked bodies in it. The art is incredibly, incredibly erotic. Uniform and foot fetishists will be well-pleased, and the umbrella maker has a habit of contorting through the air half-clothed quite a bit. The two main characters are male, but it is not at all BL, though if I were reading it without a translation I would be positive that it was.

What this means, then, is that she’s an amazing illustrator that has a strangely erotic edge to her images. Adekan is the only series she’s worked on, and there are some Adekan illustrations in here, but more interesting is the fact that the majority of the content in Nostalgia is commercial illustrations for other things. And all of the illustrations are so pretty.

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CLAMP – Shinshokan – 1991 – ISBN 4403612601

I own a few dozen artbooks, and among them, I’ve made a point to pick up every single CLAMP artbook over the years. There are a lot. I’ve covered the X Zero artbook before, but I thought this week I’d take a look at this particular RG Veda collection, which is the first collecting Mokona’s color artwork.

This book came out two years and three volumes into the serialization of RG Veda, which strikes me as almost hilariously unlikely for a new artist’s debut work. Then again, this is CLAMP.

Now, CLAMP’s origins are murky and mired in folklore, and I’ve heard several different stories about their doujinshi circle days in the 80s. I’m dubious about any info I read on the internet about what happened before RG Veda. Apparently, series like Cluster and Derayed officially predate RG Veda, and initial printings of the first volumes of both credit CLAMP (though perhaps the initial volumes were amateur printings). I mention this because it’s possible that the CLAMP name was somewhat popular and/or exposed even at the beginning of RG Veda’s life. Otherwise, the explanation for this book is that RG Veda was a raging success, and its popularity merited a book of illustrations immediately. It’s also important to keep in mind that CLAMP had already serialized, or was serializing, all three of the CLAMP School series by the time this book came out, but that was at a different publisher. Perhaps that also contributed to their popularity.

Or maybe it was just that Mokona draws very, very pretty illustrations. The character designs are a little rough and very 90s, but man, is this still a gorgeous book. This is the first of two RG Veda artbooks. The second, Tenmagouka, came out in 2001, several years after the series ended. Tenmagouka is a more complete collection of all the color art from RG Veda, and is quite a massive tome. As pretty as Hiten Muma is, Tenmagouka is jaw-dropping amazing, and is up with the X Infinity artbook as one of the most gorgeous I own.

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Artbook Spotlight: Poison

February 10, 2012

You Higuri – Seishinsha – Japanese – 100pgs – ISBN 487892194

You might remember that I’m a big fan of You Higuri. I’ve featured her before, and since then, I’ve read Gorgeous Carat, so my admiration has only grown. What can I say, I have a weakness for books that are both BL and Indiana Jones. I didn’t even think that was possible, but I find that I like it quite a bit.

She writes wonderful period pieces. The stories are great, and very well-researched as well, which is one of my favorite parts, of course. Ludwig II and Angel’s Coffin are both quite interesting because they include so many facts on historical figures now mostly lost to history, overshadowed by the events that transpired after their deaths. Granted, their lives didn’t have much to do with demons, but Angel’s Coffin in particular had quite a bit of history I was unaware of, and reading it was far more interesting than it would have been had the story been about a generic prince rather than Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria.

But along with her research, Higuri draws wonderful, wonderful period illustrations. She puts a lot of work into researching clothing and setting, and she draws it all in a lot of detail. It really helps bring her stories to life that much more, and makes the fictitious lives of Cesare Borgia, Mary Vetsera, or even her actual fictional characters like Ray and Florian a pleasure to read, whether the setting is historical Italy, Austria, or France.

Thus, I was very interested in seeing her artbooks. She has two. Poison is the older of the two, and the newer is called Jewel. I badly wanted the latter, as Higuri’s artwork becomes more polished and elaborate with age, but I thought I would snap up Poison while I could.

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Hideshi Hino – Presspop Gallery/Last Gasp – 2007 – 80 pages – ISBN 9784903090054

If you enjoy horror manga, odds are you’ve run across Hideshi Hino at some point. He specializes in gory thrills. Quite a few of his one-shot volumes have been translated into English. The selection of books here is an interesting balance between stories written for children, like Oninbo and the Bugs from Hell, and more mature and deranged stories, like The Red Snake. Many stories are both at once, such as Zoroku’s Strange Disease from the Lullabies from Hell compilation. It’s about a mentally handicapped man in a remote Japanese village that begins to rot and develops colorful sores all over his body. The townspeople eventually banish him to a swamp by himself, then later show up to kill him when the smell from the disease reaches the town anyway. The ending is bittersweet, but also a bit morally ambiguous and shockingly dark for a story that ran in a magazine for grade school children in 1969. In an interview, Hino says he received letters from children for years stating that they had to staple the pages of his story together so they couldn’t see the images of Zoroku rotting. This story, incidentally, is also the first of Hino’s horror stories. He mentions being inspired by Kazuo Umezu and Yoshiharu Tsuge, but the fable-like nature of Zoroku was directly inspired by The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.

Hino’s also quite fond of writing “autobiographical” work starring artist characters (sometimes named Hideshi Hino) that have bizarre things happen to them. The best of these, and one of the best volumes of horror manga I’ve ever read, is Panorama of Hell. Panorama of Hell is mostly fiction, but contains shades of truth, such as his family’s exile from Manchuria after World War II and details about his yakuza grandfather.

Anyway. His art style is highly unusual, and I was shocked the day I found this book in the comic store completely unlooked-for. While a tad expensive for what it is (the paper stock is pulpy instead of glossy, and it’s very short), it’s odd to see an artist like Hino with an artbook of his own, and it’s worth having for Hino fans. Most of the artwork represented is from stories that have been translated into English, and there are also three short color stories in the back of the book.

I’ve scanned less images than normal this time around because I don’t want to show off too much. The book is short, so the more you see the less there is to discover. It’s worth supporting this release, which I believe is a joint Japanese/English publication.

Also, one of the images below is NSFW.

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Mitsukazu Mihara – 2003 – 103 pgs – ISBN 4-86048-068-6

Here’s a more unusual book. Mitsukazu Mihara might be more well-known for her illustrations than she is her manga series. She was the main illustrator for the Gothic & Lolita Bible, a fashion publication that focused on those two styles and was primarily photos and articles, with some of Mihara’s illustrations featured.

Tokyopop published 4 issues of Gothic & Lolita Bible in English, but I’ve never seen one myself. Tokyopop also published about a dozen volumes of Mitsukazu Mihara’s manga, and those are all worth checking out. All of them are josei, as far as I can tell, so are of interest for that reason alone since very little josei work has been published in English. Her most famous manga is probably Doll, a 6-volume series that examines the relationships between humans and very sophisticated robot servants in a somewhat more grown-up way than, say, Chobits.

This book, published only in Japan, is a collection of the illustrations that appeared in The Gothic & Lolita Bible and Doll (in Feel Young Magazine), with illustrations from a manga called Happy Family and a few other sources (mostly fashion magazines) spread throughout. Alice Addict is only 100 pages long, it doesn’t really tie into the content of any of her series, and I’m no fashion expert. All I offer is a look at a very strange fashion/josei hybrid artbook.

Some of these illustrations are NSFW.

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Artbook Spotlight: X Zero

November 11, 2011

CLAMP – Kadokawa Shoten – 2000 – Japanese

I won’t lie, X is in my top five favorite series of all time, and I don’t really have an explanation for it. Cardcaptor Sakura is the better CLAMP series, and I’m not the biggest fan of series with huge casts or angsty apocalyptic fiction. I know I would have no patience for this today, and the only reason I am ridiculously devoted to X is that I had the time to parse its convoluted characters and plot when I was a teen.

But I’ll talk more about that when I review the new X omnibus. One of the things that X is the undisputed champion of is shoujo artwork. Mokona, the primary artist on X, is among the best shoujo artists of all time, and X is by far her best series art-wise. It’s a feast for the eyes, and the artbooks are 100% worth having.

X has two artbooks, X Zero and X Infinity. X Zero includes illustrations printed during the first ten volume run of the series, and X Infinity the latter 8.5. X Zero was issued as a large slipcased hardcover book in 2000, and later re-issued as a softcover in 2005 when X Infinity came out. The reissue has a cover illustration to match X Infinity, but I’m fairly certain the content is the same otherwise.

Grab your copy of the new X 3-in-1 from Viz, crank up Forever Love, and have a look.

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September 30, 2011

Miwa Ueda – Tokyopop – 2003 – 110 pages – ISBN 1591820421

Next month I’ll switch back to imports, but here’s one more domestic artbook for now. Again, I hadn’t flipped through this one in years, and when I saw it on the shelf I couldn’t resist.

Tokyopop only published a handful of artbooks. Aside from one or two based on their own properties (There’s definitely a Bizenghast artbook floating around, and there might be one for Princess Ai as well), there’s a Priest artbook, seven from CLAMP (not counting CLAMP no Kiseki), and this one for Peach Girl. The fact Peach Girl was popular enough to warrant an artbook release tells me that this was probably one of Tokyopop’s best-selling titles at the time. For a comparison, no domestic Sailor Moon artbooks exist, but this was starting just around the time Sailor Moon was ending, too. Manga was becoming more popular, more widely available, et cetera.

I don’t see much discussion of Peach Girl at all these days, but at the time it was one of my absolute favorites. I’m happy I can share the artbook and hopefully convince a few shoujo junkies to seek this series out.

Unfortunately, I talk more about the series than the book itself once again. If you just wanna read about the book, skip down to the last few paragraphs.

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