It’s been a while, I know. Sorry about that, classes have been running me ragged. I’ve got something a little different for you today, a novel review! The news and manga reviews will be returning shortly, but for today I’ll be taking a look a Sword of Honor by David Kirk!
David Kirk’s Sword of Honor is the second book is series about the life the legendary Japanese swordsman, Minamoto Musashi. Beginning shortly after the last, major battle of Japan’s Warring States Period in 1600, it depicts the feud between Miyamoto Musashi and the esteemed Yoshioka Sword School in Japan’s former capital of Kyoto.
Welcome to the latest midweek manga review here at Sequential-Ink! There was a brief break last week due to finals, but I’m back on track and looking to return to a twice a week schedule for the rest of the month. Despite the fact that I just welcomed you to a midweek manga review, this midweek review is actually a little different as I’ll be looking at The Science of Attack on Titan, which technically isn’t manga! Before we get that though, some news from the past two weeks…
- The Ultraman blitz on America continues! Sci-Fi Japan attended Comicon earlier this summer and was able to interview Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi, the creators of the Ultraman manga soon to be released by Viz!
- Speaking of Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi, the latest issue of Bessatsu Shonen Champion announced that the duo’s new manga, Robot Detective will be premiring in the magazine’s next issue. Robot Detective is based off of Shotaro Ishinomori’s 1970s tokusatsu series of the same name.
- Earlier this month, Last Gasp Publishing opened a Kickstarter to get Barefoot Gen into schools and libraries. If the publisher is able to meet their goal, 4,000 copies of Keiji Nakazawa’s seminal manga will be printed in hardcover for distribution to schools and libraries.
- At long last, all 20 of the Marvel manga variant covers have been revealed!
- Al Jazeera recently posted How Comic Books Helped Fuel Japan’s Love for the Atom, an article about how Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy was used to help change the Japanese public’s perception of nuclear power back in the 70s.
- And last but not least, the New York Times Best Sellers List for August 16th.
And now, onto this week’s review of The Science of Attack on Titan!
The Science of Attack on Titan
Written by Rikao Yanagita, Illustrated by Maru Fujishima, Additional Illustrations and Attack on Titan originally created by Hajime Isayama, Translated by Ko Ransom.
Kodansha Comics, 208
Rating: Older Teen (16 +)
As Attack on Titan mania sweeps the world, leading to spin off series, anime series, OVA’s, action figures, games, moves and more, one man dares to ask the important questions! One man dares to ask just what is the body temperature of a Titan, or just how fast does the vertical maneuvering gear move you through the air. That man is Rikao Yanagita and he’s written The Science of Attack on Titan to address just such issues!
Set some 70 years before the events of Attack on Titan, Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound details a turning point in humanity’s struggle against the implacable Titans, a turning point that comes with a most unexpected backstory. Following a rampage by a Titan through Shingangshina district, a lone child emerges from his dead mother’s womb. Dubbed the Titan’s Son, Kuklo, he will go on to create an art that will change the world of Attack on Titan for all time. From Ryo Suzukaze and Thores Shibamoto, comes an untold tale from the history of Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan!
Errantry: Strange Stories, a collection of short, strange stories is the latest release from Elizabeth Hand. This collection is comprised primarily of tales about normal people and their encounters with things far beyond the norm.
Being a short story collection each tale is ultimately different, dealing with different characters and ideas, though many are unified by shared themes. The most obvious among them being encounters with the supernatural and otherworldly, and the recent loss of a loved one. This turns up again and again in the volume, most notably in the opening story, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon“, “Uncle Lou” and the deeply unsettling “Near Zennor”. In addition Hand often sets the stories in the wilderness or at the edge of civilization. Isolated Maine communities, something fans of her Cassandra Neary stories should be familiar with, hard to reach, rural English towns, abandoned islands in the South and more. Hand uses these lonely, natural settings as “soft spots” areas where the skin between the “mundane” real world we all know and the “other” world is at its thinnest and where they often interact. They’re the areas one expects and associates legends of fairy mounds, hauntings, big foot encounters and more. These encounters almost always occur without explanation which, bizarrely, lends them a certain grounded feeling. As a result, each feels less like some spectacular, over the top urban fantasy story, and instead carry the same feeling as modern accounts of encounters with ghosts, UFO’s and other unexplained phenomena. It’s a smart move and one that makes the encounters that much more effective and genuine.
While all the stories are entertaining and enjoyable, the stand out in this volume is easily “Near Zennor”. The story starts off normally enough and focuses on a man dealing with the death of his wife. What starts out as an attempt to clear out her belongings leads him on a quest with disturbing implications regarding her childhood, and ultimately leads to one of the most terrifying and disturbingly realistic paranormal encounters I’ve ever come across in fiction. It’s a moment that left me deeply unnerved, and something that haunted my dreams and left me with an unsettled feeling which lingered for several days after having read it.
Errantry seems like it would be a decent introduction to her work for newcomers, while appealing to her already existing fanbase by collection some of these wonderful gems in one handy location. All in all, it’s an enjoyable and solid collection with “Near Zennor” along being worth the price of admission.
Errantry: Strange Stories is available now from Small Beer Press. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters
By August Ramone
Chronicle Books, 200 pp
Rating: Not Rated
Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters is a look back at the life and career of one of the most influential names in Japanese cinema. Perhaps best known in the west as one of the co-creators of Godzilla, Tsuburaya’s legacy goes far beyond that and August Ramone does a fantastic job at illuminating other aspects of this legendary creator’s life and career.
The bulk of the book focuses on the different eras of Tsuburaya’s career, beginning with a biographical like look back at Tusburaya’s childhood, his family and more before it segues into his career in special effects. While the early days of his life certainly hold some interest it’s Tsuburaya’s film career that’s the main attraction here, and what a career it is. As I mentioned above, if people have heard of Tusburaya in America it’s mostly likely as a co-creator of Godzilla, but August Ramone shows that he’s gone far beyond on that and makes a good case for Tsuburaya being an incredible innovator and driving force behind key trends in Japanese pop culture; not to mention laying the ground work for Japanese visual effects and creating techniques, methods, and even camera rigs, which are still used to this day. Along the way he touches bases with all of his famous movies, and a fair amount which Western audiences are probably ignorant of. The Godzilla and Ultraman franchise both figure heavily into the book, but along the way are other movies and TV shows he was involved with as well, including his propaganda films and works such as Booska, a children’s TV series.
In addition to the main chapters focusing on different parts of Tsuburaya’s career, there’s a number of essays and articles from other writers, critics and contemporaries. These range from brief looks at the toys based upon Tsuburaya’s creations, to a look at the careers of his associates like Ishiro Honda and Akira Ifukube, to accounts and remembrances of working at Tsuburaya Productions from his son, Akira Tsuburaya.
If all this wasn’t enough, the book is also full of absolutely gorgeous, eye catching, high quality photographs, giving readers a lovely look behind the scenes of shows like Ultra Q, the Godzilla movies and more. Images of Tsuburaya at work, various movie posters, toys, statues and more litter almost every page of the book, making it a visual treat as well as an engaging read.
After reading Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, I found myself wishing that more of these movies and TV shows were available in the US. While several of the major ones, a large chunk of the Godzilla cannon is currently unavailable, as are a number of movies and TV shows he had worked on. To make matters worse, the book isn’t available anymore either! Still, this is most definitely a must have for hardcore fans of Tsuburaya’s various creations and is worth tracking down through your local library system if you don’t feel like paying through the nose for it.
Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monters was published by Chronicle Books.
Written by Natsuo Kirino, Translated by Philip Gabriel
Vintage Books, 224 pp
Rating: Not Rated
Toshi and her three friends from school find themselves caught up in events following a neighbor’s brutal murder of his own mother. Real World is the third book of Natsuo Kirino’s to be released in the U.S. and like her other novels, Out and Grotesque, offers a dark and unnerving look at the life of women in various parts of modern Japanese society.
Real World depicts the events of the crime and the ensuing fallout through the eyes of the four girls and the killer himself with each chapter switching to a different character’s point of view. This allows us an in depth look into the mind and experiences of each girl and how they relate, not only to each other, but to the world at large. As things progress it becomes obvious that each girl is hiding something from the group. This ranges from sexual orientation, insecurities, broken relationships with their parents and more. Ironically nearly all these deep seated fears and secrets are glaringly obvious to everyone else in the group. Each girl is pushed and pulled by her own desires and the expectations placed upon her by both society, family and her own friends. The result is extreme isolation and alienation from even each other. Because of all the stresses and the feeling of being trapped, when Toshi’s neighbor murders his mother each girl is fascinated with the event. Some are envious, others resentful, and it’s the alienation and fascination with his willingness to cross the line and escape from his situation which draws them into the murder.
While Kirino does a good job at building up their characters and explaining their involvement and the choices they make the girls never quite feel unique and individual from each other. Maybe it’s due to the translation but if it wasn’t for the chapters being named after the character it’s focusing on I’m not sure I’d be able to tell who was narrating, they all seem to share a single voice. The only real noticeable variation comes from the male killers chapter which is marked by delusions which alternate from disturbing to humorous. Perhaps this was intended though, something to show that each girl is internally similar despite her own beliefs otherwise.
Real World is not the best novels I’ve read from Natsuo Kirino and I don’t think it’s my favorite either. The girls barely develop beyond the cliche’s they’re based upon and the killer’s loosing grasp on sanity never reaches the disturbing levels of similar descent into insanity that appeared in Grotesque. It’s still an ok read but it’s not as memorable or as fascinating as her other two books released in the U.S.
Real World is available now from Random House.
Maodhen, Vol. 1
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Ary by Jun Suemi, Translated by Eugene Woodbury
DMP, 258 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)
The latest Hideyuki Kikuchi release from DMP is a bit of blast from the past. Originally published in 1986, Maohden is a tale of Demon City Shinjuku predating Yashakiden but involving the familiar faces of Doctor Mephisto and Setsura Aki. A mysterious and deadly figure from Setsura Aki’s past reappears in Shinjuku after nearly 15 years. What secrets does he hold and how does it all connect to the Demon Quake and the current state of the city? This series promises the answers!
While I’m used to Hideyuki Kickuchi mixing sex and horror in his other works I don’t think any other book of his that I’ve read has ever ever been quite as crude and extreme in it’s usage as Maohden. Within the first thirty pages we’re treated to an employee at a hostess club being raped by a were-bear creature and a female co-worker stripping down and masturbating after watching Setsura Aki slaughter the clubs security. It just gets more bizarre and in your face from there. While Kikuchi’s hardly going to be mistaken for a feminist or a progressive when it comes to gender relations it all just feels a bit more omnipresent in this book. After finishing the novel and reading the Afterward I found out why. He wanted it to be more extreme and over the top in the sex and violence content. The result is a rather brutal, crude and graphic read full of just that, people being slaughtered and screwed. Interestingly enough the sex comes off as cruder and more graphic than the violence but admittedly that could just be my American cultural biasses and influences showing. Aside form all that this book is loaded with information about the city and some rather tantalizing hints regarding the bigger questions surrounding the Devil Quake and what the Demon City means for the world at large. It’s full of Kikuchi’s usual imaginative and over the top characters, powers and bits of world building history that he tends to pepper his books with. References to specific streets, stores and buildings abound! As for the characters, they’re what you should be expecting from Kikuchi at this point, beautiful, stoic, kind of dark and mysterious. I doubt they’ll develop much beyond that during this series.
The translation is courtesy of Eugene Woodbury, who happens to have been the translator on both the Yashakiden series and the Demon City Shinjuku collection from DMP. From what I remember of Yashakiden I thought the translation was ok with some odd bits here and there. Sadly I feel that the translation for Maohden is a bit rougher and the book suffers from it. I’m hardly a grammar expert so when I start to notice strange sentence fragments lurking about that cause the flow of the text to come to a screeching halt you know something is up. I’m not sure if he was simply attempting to be literal in his translation and these floating fragments are due to grammatical differences between Japanese and English, but they stick out like a sore thumb and make the book rather awkward to read in places. I’m not really expecting perfect grammar throughout, but more often than not these seem like fairly noticeable things that some minor editing or proof reading could have taken care of.
Jun Suemi, whose work appeared in Yashakiden, provides the spot illustrations here as well. His work here also feels a little rougher and stiffer than in that later series and even the cover doesn’t click or grab me in the way Yashakiden’s did. Still, they’re decent enough and don’t really detract or take away from the reading experience at all and in fact do a good job at depicting one or two of the minor characters.
This isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read from Kikuchi and I don’t think it’s in danger of becoming my favorite. Still, there are seeds of what’s to come here. The exhaustive and lengthy asides that flesh out the history and culture of the city are as enjoyable as ever. Likewise the teasing hints and promises that we may find out some secrets behind the city’s existence should be enough to warrant a look from any hardcore fan of his or of the Demon City itself. Assuming they can get by the huge amounts of graphic and crude sex that is. It’s not a good introduction to Kikuchi’s work and is something long time fans will probably get the most out of.