Archive for August, 2011

Itazura na Kiss, Vol. 6

August 23, 2011 3 comments

Itazura na Kiss, Vol. 6Itazura na Kiss, Vol. 6
by Kaoru Tada
DMP, 328 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

The sixth volume of Kaoru Tada’s romantic comedy, Itazura Na Kiss, sees a major shake up in the status quo of Kotoko and Naoki’s relationship. With wedding bells in the air Kotoko’s dream finally comes true as the duo finally tie the knot! But what does this mean for their dynamic and the direction of the series?

While it’s nice to finally see the two together, I couldn’t help but feel a little creeped out by Naoki’s proposal and his delay in telling Kotoko that he loved her. The proposal is actually handled well and is done in a manner befitting the huge event it is, but the events leading up until then have a weird and vaguely creepy feel to them, like Naoki’s doing it not because he loves her but because he can’t stand the idea of her being anywhere else. This is actually something that continues to plague their relationship throughout the volume. Despite their marriage he still maintains a cool aloofness from her for the most part and at times it feels less like the love between two people and more like the fondness one has for a family pet. He still continues to taunt and pick on her, which is generally kind of funny though there were a few times where I found myself wondering when he would actually grow out of elementary school level emotional displays of tugging on a crushes hair and move onto to those of a more mature adult. There’s also a weird moment during their honeymoon where they meet a couple whose relationship parallels their own. It’s interesting for how it flips the power structure around with the man as the one who’s been doing the pining for years. On the surface a parallel relationship could be an interesting addition to the series, but sadly it takes a rather uncomfortable turn. After the wife states her intention of breaking up Kotoko and Naoki her husband slaps her across the face. The scene is clearly intended to be a bit of a positive moment as it’s the first time he stands up to his wife and calls her on being a horrible person. On the other hand it’s still a slap to the face and so the whole scene takes on a weird pro-wife slapping feel.

Kaoru Tada’s artwork continues to be strong and she really flexes her muscles a few times with her depiction of several powerful emotional moments. Despite my misgivings about the events leading up the proposal and Naoki’s delay on using the L word, the actually proposal and ensuing embrace in the rain was a lovely payoff and suitably dramatic and impressive looking. Another thing I have to compliment her on is the fantastic job she’s done of getting across the family resemblance between Naoki and Yuuki, Naoki’s younger brother. I don’t think I noticed it before but the eyes are dead on. Too further the similarities she depicts Yuuki with many of the same expressions as Naoki and even a similar type of body language. I’m not sure if this was really present in the earlier volumes or not, but it really shines in this volume.

I’m still enjoying Itazura na Kiss despite the odd plot line or event. I’m a little surprised to see Naoki and Kotoko marrying so soon and given some of the events of this volume I’m a little worried that it simply means more of the same but now they share a last name. Then again I’ve pretty much been saying the same thing for the last several volumes yet I keep coming back and enjoying the series regardless. I guess what it comes down to is that Kaoru Tada is such a good creator that even when things are a bit repetitive it feels less like an annoying grind and more like spending time with an old friend.

Itazura na Kiss, Vol. 6 is available now from Digital Manga Publishing. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.


Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Tokyo ViceTokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
Written by Jake Adelstein
Vintage Books/Random House, 352 pp.
Rating: NA

Tokyo Vice is exactly what the title says it is. It’s a memoir spanning Jake Adelstein’s career in Japan as a crime reporter for it’s most widely read newspaper, the Yomiuri, and several of his investigations made during this time. The primary selling point and most notable of these is a piece he began investigating while with the Yomiura but wouldn’t write about until after his time there, namely an article on Tadamasa Goto, the former head of Japan’s most powerful yakuza organization, the Yamaguchi-Gumi.

While the Tadamasa Goto story is the one that’s most associated with Tokyo Vice it doesn’t really take center stage until the very end. This may lead to some disappointment for people who were expecting it to be nothing but a full, detailed retelling of this particular incident. Instead it spans Adelstein’s career and time in Japan highlighting several notable cases and incidents that he was involved in while there. These range from his earliest days with the Yomiuri, with some fascinating details explaining the interactions and relationships between the police, yakuza and reporters, hilarious details on office life, a touching chapter on a close colleague of his, details of Japan’s sex industry and the convoluted and bizarre laws that regulate it, information on another notable murder mystery that would later be the inspiration for the movie Cold Fish and more. Throughout each chapter a wide assortment of reporters, prostitutes, police, yakuza and more all appear, some more often than others. Unfortunately since it’s all true he often changes names, fudges certain details or otherwise skips over certain intricacies of the various investigations he was involved in. You add that into the fact that often times months or years may pass between chapters and the result is a disjointed but compelling read.

Tokyo Vice paints a fairly poor picture of the Japanese Police, their laws, their criminals, politicians and society in general. The callousness and casualness with which the police and society turn a blind eye towards some of the incidents within the book will shock those who are only passingly familiar with the country’s reputation for a low crime rate. That said, it does highlight several police, reporters and others trying to make the best of a bad situation and who are working to raise social awareness of some of these issues and change the laws focusing on them. The most notable of these come in the forms of police officer friends by the names of Sekiguchi and Alien Cop. In fact I almost wish that the book had spent more detailing Adelstein’s relationship and encounters with these two. While Sekiguchi is fairly prominent we don’t know much of his work outside of his encounters with Adelstein who paints him a very positive light. Alien Cop is even more of an enigma though he does come through for Adelstein in a very untenable time in his life. Part of this is due to the focus of the story being Adelstein’s experiences and partly due to Adelstein undoubtedly attempting to protect their identities. Adelstein himself doesn’t exactly come off as squeaky clean. He’s very honest about his flaws, even when he attempts to play coy with certain details and aspects of his life. He’s upfront and forthright about being a horrible, unfaithful and neglectful husband and at crossing professional lines and making his work personal on several occasions. I was a little surprised at his frankness and how he has little problem depicting himself in a negative light, but at the same time found it refreshingly honest.

Perhaps it’s because the story is at times so outrageous that it can’t help but be compared to works of fiction, but while reading it I couldn’t help but think of The Wire, the critically acclaimed crime drama that drew it’s inspirations from one of the producers own investigations and contacts from his time as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. The bits dealing with human trafficking and the attempts of the various law enforcement departments to shove it off on each other were eerily similar to the events of Season 2 of The Wire. This is turn led me to think about similar US crime and how one only has to look to the history of Craigs List now defunct adult services section to find stories about underage girls and foreign women being forced into prostitution. While certain cultural aspects of Adelstein’s stories are unique to Japan, the essence of it, the corruption, crime, apathy and more can and does happen in our own backyard and I think that’s where a great deal of the books power comes from. It may be taking place half a world away, but it hits awfully close to home.

Tokyo Vice: An America Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
is available now from Random House.

Tribes: The Dog Years

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by Michael Geszei and Pater Spinetta, Art by Inaki Miranda, Colors by Eve de la Cruz
IDW, 202 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

Tribes: The Dog Years is a post apocalyptic tale set some time in the future after a biological accident has resulted in a large portion of humanity being wiped out. The survivors have banded together in small, tribal communities and live short, brief intense lives. Sundog is part of the Sky Shadow tribe and he leads a life already full of struggle and hardships, but things get more even more complicated after a helicopter drops an elderly and oddly dressed man into the tribe’s lap, an event that will reveal the history of the world and change the fate of mankind.

I had never heard of this story and came into completely cold and I have to say that I’m glad I gave it a chance as it’s a surprisingly entertaining and engaging tale. Sundog is clearly the main character and he starts out as someone who’s a bit of an outsider and on the periphery of his tribe, the Sky Shadows, due to various reasons. His inability to fit in causes him to clash with the more orthodox Sky Shadows, including Rockjumper, the next chief, on several occasions. On the flip side it also earns him the affection of Fallingstar, Rockjumper’s betrothed. Over the course of the story we watch Sundog grow and develop from a hesitant, outsider to a leader who ultimately forms his own, ragtag tribe of survivors, misfits and run aways. It’s very much an origin story, not just for Sundog and his group, but for the world in general, and because of this it does suffer a little bit from introductory-itis, but thanks to Michael Geszei’s and Pater Spinetta’s skills none of it ever felt shoehorned in and it certainly didn’t keep the story from being engaging and fun.

Inaki Miranda and Eve de la Cruz do an amazing job in the visuals department and this book is absolutely gorgeous. The character designs are fantastic and reminiscent of the Mad Max series of movies, featuring armor made from scraps of items left over from the previous civilization. Tires for armor, colanders for helmets, that kind of stuff. It’s a visually stunning book presented in a slightly larger than usual format. This has some mixed results in that it allows the visuals to take on a grander scope and gives the story a very cinematic “wide screen” feel, but at the same time it occasionally causes the panel to panel flow to move in odd directions. While this is noticeable at times, the use of border thickness helps to direct ones eyes in the right direction. The oversized format also means that you’ll need to view it a page at a time in the Emanga reader or you’ll be cutting off the edges.

Tribes: The Dog Years was enjoyable all the way through with a nice, big blockbuster feel to it. The visuals are clearly the high point but don’t mistake it for all sizzle as there’s enough meat to the tale to have me wanting to see a follow up.

Tribes: The Dog Years is available now from IDW Publishing and Emanga. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Brody’s Ghost, Vol. 1

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Brody's Ghost, Vol. 1Brody’s Ghost, Vol. 1
by Mark Crilley
Dark Horse, 96 pp.
Rating: 12 +

Brody is a down and out slacker who splits his time between pining for an ex, being a stock boy at a market, and playing guitar for spare change. Directionless and adrift his life is given direction and purpose thanks to a chance meeting with a young girl named Talia.. who’s been dead for five years. From the mind of the thirteen time Eisner Nominee Mark Crilley comes the overlooked gem, Brody’s Ghost.

The story, at least so far, feels like the beginning of any hero’s journey. Brody’s lacking direction and encounters a being who sets him upon a quest. In this case it’s helping Talia earn her way into the afterlife by tracking a serial killer. The first volume is simply the introduction to this plot and idea and there’s no real resolution. That said it doesn’t really matter because Crilley pulls it all off with charm and style. Brody’s a likably flawed character, partially stewing in a depression due to a recent break up, but there are signs of greatness and empathy that are shown, particularly with his dealings with Talia. Talia, for her part is a bit self centered but is providing the necessary boot in Brody’s ass that he needs. At this moment it does feel like he’s being dragged into this situation by her, but I get the feeling that he’ll be coming into his own as the series progresses.

Crilley’s artwork is pretty solid stuff. He does a fantastic job at creating this quasi sci-fi urban landscape full of advertisements, litter and more. It all has a wonderfully lived in run down look and feel to it. His characters run the gamut from skinny street urchins to muscular gang members and each has a distinct look, face and more. Very few characters in this first volume look alike, showing his versatility in depicting the human body and it’s various features. The few action scenes we get are well done and the backgrounds help flesh out the weird, run down megalopolis that the story is set in.

All in all Brody’s Ghost was another wonderful find! Between this and Gear School Dark Horse is putting out two overlooked graphic novel series that seem like they’re intended to appeal to an all age audience. The back of the book says that this is the first of six volumes, the second one apparently came out this year but I’ve yet to find it. Hopefully it performs well enough for Crilley to finish the series, because it is a rather fun read and something the US comic scene needs more of.

Brody’s Ghost, Vol. 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

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