Astral Project 4

April 8, 2010

marginal / Syuji Takeya – CMX – 2009 – 4 volumes

I did love this series, and its semi-pretentious plot and philosophical ramblings clicked with me in a way that such things rarely do, but the fourth volume was the weakest of the four.

Unfortunately, the weakest link turns out to be Masahiko’s sister, the initial mystery and the hook that started everything off in the series.  It’s appropriate that things come full circle and end with her, but the explanation of her role in the government research of astral projection just isn’t a very satisfying one, and in the end, it doesn’t matter much since the research can only be done on willing subjects.  Her reasons for doing what she did are also ultimately unsatisfying, given the care for the justification of cultural problems given elsewhere in the series.

Speaking of the justification of cultural problems, the philosophy got away from me a little bit here, too.  Francis Bacon’s painting and Slimy-kun have a conversation about how computers in the life of modern man act as a replacement for real experiences, and are what is causing the sharp increase in astral projection.  They touched on this last volume (blaming otaku for bad astral projection that they’ve been witnessing), but they go into more detail here.  Topics include how consumerism replaced belief in religion in the US when all the immigrants left their holy lands behind and felt alienated, and how materialism replaced religion in Japan after WWII when the emperor was no longer divine.  Actually, they don’t cite materialsm at first, they cite professional wrestling, which I thought was awesome.

The government conspiracy parts are what they are, and function as they should in the story, but I was left feeling like something was missing from that part, or like I was given too much information.  The government officials get really preachy in the last pages, and it didn’t feel like they needed to be developed as much as that.  Faceless officials with no opinions would have been fine.

The situations with Misa and Zampano work themselves out.  Admittedly, I was a little disappointed with the ending since it took out several elements of the series I really liked, mostly involving activities Masahiko gets up to.

Yeah, all around this volume was a bit of a disappointment, but I don’t think that takes away from the series as a whole.  It’s definitely not for everyone, and it can be preachy and hard to follow and really out there, but if it hooks you, it’s going to be one of the more unique manga you can read.  Thank you, CMX.

Astral Project 3

March 12, 2010

marginal / Syuji Takeya – CMX – 2009 – 4 volumes

Forgive me, for I have sinned.  I was reading this when I wrote up my Midterm Report Card recommendations for Manga Recon, but I decided to hold off on reading the whole thing until the fourth volume came out.  Then I didn’t get the fourth volume for a long time, which is terrible because this series is mind-blowing amazing.  So I’m going to rectify this oversight right now and give the most robust recommendation I can muster.

Now, there’s a lot of existential and philosophical talk floating around this series.  Normally, this would turn me off in a big way, especially since I normally have a lot of problems following this type of thinking in a manga (usually because it’s not handled well, but also because nine times out of ten I prefer shutting my brain off when I read comics).  I’ve heard a few people mention they were turned off by this aspect of the series, and I completely understand that.  It’s got my ear, though, and I love where it’s going with its themes.  I can’t get over how clearly and easily a lot of the heavy stuff is being conveyed, too.

What are the themes at this point?  Well, the theory put forth for this period of heavy astral projection is that humans are fundamentally flawed and broken at this stage of their evolution.  They’ve come up with alternate forms of communication, effectively shutting them off from the most necessary form, that of the face-to-face conversation.  There’s also the fact that the first worldwide religion, television, is essentially worse for humanity than anything that has come before.  It’s a depressing time, and people are escaping.  The two astral projections without human bodies theorize that those two conditions will destroy humanity.

The book introduces its rather heavy point with a conversation of rites of passage, saying that one of the problems is that modern society lacks such a thing.  They go on to state that Japanese otaku culture is the most socially broken and spiritually robust of the Earth’s inhabitants, and it got this way by being neutralized by and following the example of the United States.  Bascially, it’s the bad social practices and policies of the US that will kill civilization.  I know it’ll come back around to this point in the final volume, and I must say, I absolutely need to see the US destroy humanity.

There are other things going on aside from this conversation, however, which is another huge saving grace for the series.  Masahiko falls in love for the first time in his life, finally courting Misa on the ground.  Their relationship blossoms in an understated way, and Masahiko begins opening himself up to her, which causes him to reflect on himself.  We also meet Misa’s mother and Zampano’s wife, and she gets drawn up into a rather major story event by the end of the volume.  Interestingly, the story event was related more to the characters than to the plot.

I love the character development in this series an awful lot, too.  Admittedly, one of the story’s weaknesses seems to be that the original focus, what happened to Masahiko’s sister Asami, continually falls by the wayside, but it never disappears completely.  I think this is pretty intentional, however, since the story is largely about Masahiko exploring himself, and coming to terms with the loss of his sister, whether through death or because she projected too hard, is a part of that.

The story also addresses the subject of the astral projections and what happens after death.

Awesome, awesome stuff.  And very unique, to be sure.

Astral Project 2

June 3, 2009

This series is really, really awesome in a sort of far-out way.  The methods it uses to tackles relationships in both out-of-body experiences and in real life are interesting, and I can’t help but be sucked into all the mysteries and the stylish goings-on during Masahiko’s journeys.  It’s just too weird not to like.

This volume introduces a painting that Masahiko becomes obsessed with.  I got a severe deja vu feeling when I saw it, and that’s probably because it’s attributed to the extremely creepy Francis Bacon, who is mentioned a few panels later.  Except… I just went through all my art history books, and about 30 pages of google image search, and I cannot find the painting.  20th century art was not something I focused on in school, so Bacon isn’t really my strong suit.  I’m not entirely convinced it’s a real painting, but I thought it was when I first saw it.  This painting has literally been driving me crazy all day.  Thanks, Masahiko, apparently the painting does have power over others.

I was quite delighted when the figure from the painting took off and started flying around and talking to Masahiko.  I love this series so much.

Otherwise, there’s lots of other stuff going on.  The jazz collector poses some sort of threat to Masahiko towards the beginning of the volume, he finds himself drawn more and more into Astral Projection, and becomes more and more obsessed with his sister’s death.  I can’t really fault it on anything, because it appropriately drifts from topic to topic within the framework set up in the first volume.  It’s absolutely perfectly executed for what it is.  About the only thing I was missing was more from the girl he met last volume, but there was some stuff about her and a lot of background, so she was at least present and accounted for.

I also like Masahiko’s profession.  While he seems like a pretty average 20-something with a job he’s not all that interested in committing to or spending much time with, it’s important to remember he’s actually employed by the yakuza, and these guys think pretty highly of him.  He points out himself that he’s not a good guy.  I do wonder what will come of that.

Astral Project.  Shame on me for falling behind, but luckily I’ve got volume 3 to read now and the volume 4 conclusion coming soon.

Astral Project 1

February 27, 2009

I actually forgot I had this.  This is one of the few series my roommate enjoys, and he’s the one that reminded me of it since he asked about the second volume.  It’s got everything he loves in it though: jazz musicians and conspiracy theories.  That’s a weird enough mix to get most people’s attention, I think.

It is, for sure, a weird series.  A boy’s sister dies of heart failure, but he suspects she committed suicide after being under pressure from their overbearing parents.  As a keepsake, he takes the CD she has in her CD player.  This turns out to be a jazz compilation, and while listening to it, Masahiko has an out-of-body experience.  The rest of the volume focuses on Masahiko trying to figure out this new state he finds himself in, tracking down others like himself in the night sky, trying to see if the CD gives anyone an out-of-body experience, and figuring out what his sister had been involved with, if anything, before her death.

The best thing about this series is that I have literally no idea where it’s going to go next.  It actually is pretty down-to-Earth about the whole astral projection thing.  So instead of having funky adventures and saving the world when he finds he can do this, he just enjoys testing his limits and experimenting.  He has a job as a driver for an escort service specializing in former celebrities, so these girls occasionally enter in the fringes of the story.  Other people who can astral project include a homeless man and a female convenience store clerk.  Aside from astral projection, we also get the possibility of a religious cult and some sort of bizarre heierarchy among the beings who can astral project.

My roommate tells me Albert Ayler is a real jazz musician.  Bonus points to this manga for that, and paralleling his death with Yukio Mishima’s suicide.  Apparently they happened on the same day.  The drummer that the Jazz expert speaks to, Basil Thompson, is unfortunately not a real person.  I find it hard to believe that the Jazz expert couldn’t hear the difference between real and electronic instruments, though.

The art is also weird and totally different.  I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it at first, but it had grown on me by the end of the volume.  It’s got weird moments of extreme detail, and it can get surprisingly stylized when something weird is going on.  I also like the use of thick outlines, too.

No bad could come of anyone reading this, I think, though I think it will be a few more volumes before it really starts to grip me.