Archive for May, 2012

The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition

May 21, 2012 4 comments

The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition
Created by Variety Art Works
One Peace Books, 576 pp
Rating: Not Rated

The latest release from One Peace Books is a massive manga adaption of The Bible. Yes, that Bible. It contains adaptions of key stories from both the Old and New Testaments with a streamlined, all ages friendly feel to it.

As mentioned above this feels like a very streamlined and trimmed down version of the Bible that most people are at least passingly familiar with. It starts with Genesis and covers many of the major and more well known biblical stories right on through to The Passion. That said, it’s not exactly uncut. There are a few stories missing and the snipping and tweaking of the Old Testament reinforces the idea of it as a family history. It essentially focuses on and follows a succession of kings from the blood line of Adam and Eve. While many of the more well known stories from the Old Testament are intact, such as Noah, Moses and Exodus, Solomon, David and more, I couldn’t help but notice some of the missing tales. Things like Samson and Delilah, Jonah and the Whale are no where to be found and what’s left has been edited and tweaked to give it a family friendly feel. For example, yes there’s the bit about Sodom and Gomorra but this adaption glosses over the details of those cities and what happens afterwards with Lot and his daughters. The editing and missing pieces continues into the New Testament portion of the book where they gloss over The Passion, omitting the details of Jesus’ punishment and skipping over the Stations of the Cross. The Doubting Thomas incident is also missing and the book only pays lip service to books and events that took place after the crucifixion. There’s also the omission to the one piece of the Bible I was most looking forward to seeing a manga rendition of, namely Revelation.

Visually the book is average but solid work. Despite some of the hugely memorable moments there are few stand out and eye catching moments. Moses parting the Red Sea is probably the visual highlight of the book, but other events that would seem to lend themselves to a visual spectacle aren’t really given time to convey their import and impact. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, David’s battle with Goliath, the siege of Jericho and even The Passion and crucifixion lack the visual oomph you’d expect them to carry. Some of this might be due to the writing, there’s a lot of stuff to get into this single volume even at nearly 600 pages, so everything’s fairly compressed and it lacks some of the visual emotional beats and visual cues often associated with manga, such as lingering establishing shots to enhance the mood and so forth. In fairness if they took the time to include those it’d probably be a multivolume set of thousands of pages, so hey. The character designs are nothing amazing or special but most of the characters are different enough to be able to tell them apart. That said there’s something odd going on with the eyes in this book. The looks of happiness and rapture in several places come off as the opposite, and some of the panicked or fearful looks are so over the top that they’re almost laughable.

It’s hard to critique this given that it’s, well, The Bible and as such wasn’t exactly written with plot and character development in mind. It was intended to convey ideas, morals, oral history and more and this adaption does an ok job at getting some of those things across. It just fails to deliver in the some of the more emotional and moving moments. I don’t think this will be replacing the tried and true prose editions the Bible but I can see where it might make a nice, all ages, accessible version to supplement and perhaps even help encourage interest in Christianity in younger people already inclined in that direction.

The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition is available now from One Peace Books. Review copy provided by the publisher.


Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1

May 15, 2012 1 comment

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1
Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Scripted by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse Comics, 80 pp
Rating: 10 +

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1 comes to us courtesy of Avatar co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, with co-writer Gene Luen Yang, creator of American Born Chinese and artwork from Gurihiru. This comic is set shortly after the end of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series and continues the stories of Aang, Zuko and the rest of the cast as they attempt to rebuild the world following the TV series conclusion. Unfortunately things aren’t quite as clear cut as they had hoped and our heroes quickly find themselves butting heads with each other, old allies and new enemies alike.

The series is the next logical step with regards to the TV series plot line. Yes, the big bad is defeated and it’s time to rebuild but 100 years of war and death tends to leave an impression. You have people who are very unhappy with the Fire Nation still and looking for justice and revenge. The primary issue in this volume is Aang and Zuko’s attempts to put an end to the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom, the realm which suffered the most from the war with the Fire Nation. Unfortunately after a century of occupation things aren’t as clear cut as our heroes might like. In some cases Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom families are entwined, making separation rather difficult, to say nothing of the Fire Nation citizens who were born, raised and never knew any other home other than those of the colonies. It’s from these issues that the conflict and story is built. The story manages to move the plot forward in a completely logical manner and also manages to maintain many of the characters and their personalities from the original TV series.

Visually the book is fantastic. Gurihiru does a bang up job of aping the TV series visual style, even nailing some of the movements used in bending. The fight scene’s are short and few but they’re crisp and resemble those from the TV series. The cast of characters all look like their TV counterparts with costuming, facial expressions and more all being true to the source material. The few new characters who are introduced also fit seamlessly into the world and look like something you’d expect to see in the cartoon. All in all, it’s a fine looking book!

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about how this would turn out. Dark Horse has done continuations of fan favorite TV shows before with mixed results, but I’m glad to say that Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise is a solid addition to the Avatar mythos. It looks and feels like an extension to the original series while taking the story in a new direction without feeling untrue or radically different from the source material. From what I understand the series is slated to run about 5 volumes and frankly, if they’re able to continuously deliver this level of quality then I’ll be on board for all of them!

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

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Erementar Gerade, Vol. 7

May 8, 2012 1 comment

Erementar Gerade, Vol. 7Erementar Gerade, Vol. 7
by Mayumi Azuma
DMP, 184 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)

The seventh volume of Mayumi Azuma’s Erementar Gerade continues the adventures of Cou and company as they attempt to reach Edel Garden. Unfortunately due to the events of the last volume, and Cou’s horrid attempt at border hopping, the group has to use more round about methods. They find themselves attempting to cross a forest via a gondola only to find themselves in a trap set by one of their own!

This volume is heavily focused on Viro, a young girl who joined the group a volume or two ago as a Cou fangirl. She began acting strangely last volume and engaged in some very disturbing activity with Ren. While it wasn’t really explained at the time it read like a sexual assault of some kind. At any rate it’s time for Viro’s secrets to be revealed in a tale that does a great deal to reinforce my belief that the underlying theme of the series is the exploitation of women in society as sex objects. For all intents and purposes she’s been raised and bred to serve, treated like a slave and had it ground into her that she’s just an object and less than dirt. By undertaking this mission to infiltrate the group she had hoped to rise from a toy to.. uh, well, a slightly more valuable toy. That’s what fascinated me about this volume. Her motivations are the horribly twisted ones of someone who’s been exploited and dehumanized to such a degree that they can’t recognize a healthy relationship or a way out of the cycle of abuse when it’s biting them in the ass. Instead she pursues self damaging obsessions and unknowingly continues the cycle. At least that’s my interpretation of it all. Viro and her secrets aren’t the only interesting moments of the volume though! We also get our first glimpse of Rasati and Lilea Reacting with each other and it’s kind of interesting, not to mention some more information regarding the antagonists and the introduction of potential cannon fodder for our heroes to deal with as well.

The artwork continues to improve though the character designs still fall flat for me, though a new villain in the series who appears here is a step in the right direction. The action scenes are becoming clearer and easier to follow as well which is a definite bonus in my mind. Mayumi Azuma does a fine job at depicting the quieter moments and this volume has a fair amount of them before things explode into mass combat. I’m a little tired of reading manga set in the woods though. I suppose it’s a little easier to draw sparse, rocky woodland areas than big urban cities, but it’s just so generic and bland that the physical setting for these fantasy/action shonen manga often blur together.

While it wasn’t quite as dark as the last volume I was reasonably impressed at some of the psychological themes that played out with Viro, even if it did ultimately come down to the typical good/evil dynamic that dominates shonen manga. I am starting to wonder whether Mayumi Azuma is actually going to say something about society and its treatment of women beyond that of “women are people too”, but I suppose that’s still a bit more than most shonen manga. The series continues to surprise and entertain!

Erementar Gerade, Vol. 7 is available now from Digital Manga Publishing and Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Sailor Moon, Vol. 3

May 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Sailor Moon, Vol. 3Sailor Moon, Vol. 3
by Naoko Takeuchi
Kodansha Comics, 248 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)

The third volume of Naoko Takeuchi’s shojo hit, Sailor Moon concludes the opening arc seeing our heroines facing off against the evil Queen Metalia! Secrets are revealed as the forces of good and evil clash with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. Afterwards the Sailor Scouts find themselves up against a new threat with new mysteries and questions waiting to be answered.

We’re three volumes in and I beginning to think that this might be a rather uneven series. The first volume was all introductions, leading us to meet the various Sailor Scouts while finding out bits and pieces about them and their powers. The second volume was a massive info dump with huge amounts of background information, world building, setting up the conflict between Sailor Moon and the forces of Metalia and Beryl, and a heavy fleshing out of the romance between Usagi and Mamoru. This volume brings the opening arc to it’s conclusion but does so in such a way that undercuts much of the drama and the excitement of the story. It’s so compressed that moments which feel like they matter and should resonate fall a bit flat or are glossed over surprisingly quickly. Moments such as the Sailor Scouts sacrificing themselves or various fights and climactic scenes often take place over the course of a panel or two. This continues into the second arc which we’re thrown into head first, witnessing seemingly pointless attacks upon the Sailor Scouts by villains who are cyphers. While that’s not a huge issue, their motivations currently serve as a mystery hook for this arc, the reactions of the Sailor Scouts to all of it are virtually nonexistent! For example, Sailor Mars is kidnapped early on but the scouts express almost no worry or grief outside of an initial “She’s gone!” reaction. This rather large and major occurrence is almost glossed over and instead Sail Moon spends a large chunk of the story stressing over the arrival Chibi-Usa, a mysterious young girl who seems to have a connection to Usagi and who moves in with them. While it makes sense that that would be on her mind, you’d think she’d be more than a little worried about her friend being kidnapped and might comment on it a bit more. To make things even more bizarre almost no one but the Scouts seem to notice or care about Mars’ disappearance. Her classmates express some surprise that she’s been absent for a few days but there’s nothing about what her family is doing or anyone making any attempt to locate a missing teenager beyond the Scouts asking around. It makes the entire thing feel surreal and oddly empty, like the events are taking place in some kind of vacuum which doesn’t affect the world the story is set in.

Visually the book’s not really my cup of tea but it’s hard to deny Naoko Takeuchi’s skill in depicting and conveying emotional oomph. As I mentioned above her battle scenes tend to be hyper compressed to the point that they make old school superhero comics look positive languid in their pacing. It’s not just the pacing but the lack of clarity regarding what’s happening and where people are going or moving in relation to each other. On the other hand when it comes to the romance between Usagi and Mamoru she’s piles it on and turns up the volume to eleven. A kiss between the two at the end of the opening arc is given a gorgeous two page spread juxtaposing it against their previous lives as Endymion and Serenity. The whole moment hangs in the air wonderfully thanks to her use of toning, patterns, a lack of panel borders or backgrounds and more. The entire scene feels like the equivalent of two lovers running to each other at the climax of a Hollywood film.

I’m finding Sailor Moon to be a mixed bag and wonder if it’s due to the fact that I’m so far outside of the target audience for the book or whether it’s just not being as good as everyone’s made it out to be over the years. Still, while I can’t quite put my finger on it, though I’m leaning towards it’s importance in the American anime and manga scene, it is oddly compelling and I find myself wanting to give it at least one more volume.

Sailor Moon, vol. 3 is available now from Kodansha Comics.

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