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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Cowboy Joe's Two-Gun Manga Round-Up, Volume 1

It's December 7, the 64th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which, while it did lead to US involvement in World War II, and therefore Sgt. Rock and the Haunted Tank, also led to a Jerry Bruckheimer film. And yesterday, I got a hit from a page on J-List that featured both armpit fetish manga, and a story that featured a pair of sisters "who are sexually involved (lesbians) and are hermaphrodites to boot."

Thanks, Japan.

Thanks a lot.

But I kid. See, that's the type of thing that gives people the false impression that I hate manga, which--while I'm not nearly as enamored of it as I used to be--is pretty far from the truth. A truth that I'll be exploring in tonight's inexplicably cowboy-themed Manga Round-Up!


A few months back, my amigo Phil called me out for hating manga, based on something I said once. That something may have been "I hate manga," but unless this is your first time here at the ISB, you've probably caught on to my nigh-constant use of hyperbole. It would be a lot more accurate for me to say that I've grown disenchanted with it. When I was growing up, Japanese entertainment hadn't quite blown up on the scene to the point that it's at today, so I was able to get into manga and anime--and I hate to say this--back when it was still sort of underground. My friends and I would end up going through the video store trying to find a VHS copy of something that wasn't Project A-Ko or the bottomlessly wretched Galaxy Express 999, and except for that time that I got up at six AM on a Saturday to watch Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, I generally felt that the rewards were worth the effort. The same went for the manga I was able to find, which back in the day were few and far between, which resulted in me paying a pretty penny for the San Diego cover of Sailor Moon #1.

Yeah, shut up. I liked Sailor Moon.

Anyway no matter which side of the debate you fall on, you hombres have to admit that manga is steeped in its own conventions and storytelling tricks, as much or more than American comics, and those sorts of things started to wear on me after a while. One of the ones that really bothered me was the proclivity of a lot of manga to go on for dozens of volumes with no end in sight. That might sound strange, since I follow comics that have been published every month since 1938, but if I want to read an entire story about, say, Batman, I can pick up something and knock it out in one sitting. With a lot of manga, that's much harder to do.

I was seven volumes into Love Hina, for instance, before I realized that Narusegawa was always going to be a hateful bitch, and that what I really wanted was for Keitaro to put on a skull t-shirt and take Hinata House out with an M-60. Fortunately, I found an outlet for that impulse elsewhere.

Also, while I actually like most "manga-style" art, small sizes, black and white pages, and speed lines can make a lot of action sequences a bear to read. I feel like an idiot for admitting it, but outside of the beautiful two-page spreads that were the denoument of every major encounter, the fight scenes in Blade of the Immortal were often hard to follow.

That said, I recently finished up my run of Gunsmith Cats, because Kenichi Sonada's action sequences are some of the absolute best in comics, and his car chases are second to none. And I will buy anything--anything--with Adam Warren's name on it.

So it's not like I absolutely hate manga. I just very rarely buy it.

Except when it's Cromartie High School.

This book is awesome.The first time I ever heard of Eiji Nonaka's Cromartie High was when I saw an ad in Previews that had one sentence written across the top in bold type:

"Cromartie High School is the shit." --Evan Dorkin

That was all it took to sell me on the book. Dorkin, in addition to writing some great episodes of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, proved he was one of the funniest comics creators ever with stuff like Milk and Cheese and the absolutely essential Superman and Batman: World's Funnest. So it should be no surprise that he was right about Cromartie High.

The plot's minimal: Through a mishap, bright and studious Kamiyama ends up at a high school populated by badass delinquents. Hilarity ensues.

Except hilarity really does ensue. Nonaka works in small chapters that serve as little more than elaborate gag strips, but it's a format that keeps everything moving and allows him to focus on recurring setups, tweaking the punchline a little bit every time, like the progression of "totally wild dudes" that eventually leads to the series' mascot, Mechazawa.

And while we're on the subject, the translation is great, especially since Nonaka relies a lot on static art and makes most of the jokes through dialogue. Dialogue that sounds suspiciously like how I actually talk. Take this page where the badasses are discussing why Kamiyama should represent them at the All-Tokyo Kingpin Tournament:

That rabbit is hardcore.And the absurdist humor just continues from there, including a storyline where a high school gang boss with carsickness gets stranded in America and replaced by a thirty-four year old who passes for a high school student by wearing a Luchadore mask. Pardner, that's what I call genius.

I'll admit I still skip over most of the manga publishers when I do my Previews order, but Cromartie's gone a long way towards making me take a second look. It's even gotten to the point where I lassoed m'self Tug's copy of Steady Beat and a trade of Dramacon that we had laying around the store.

Now if only there were some manga Christmas specials, I think I could really get into it.

Next: This week's comics... One wins, ONE DIES!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post.
I too, as painful as it is too say, enjoyed manga when it was "underground". I still have some of the very first issues of "Ranma 1/2" Viz put out. I too, find myself not very interested in a upteenth manga that is released here on the grounds of it's newfound and fastly fading hipness. The most frustrating thing is that most of these are manga brought over simple because of that reason, it's a japanese comic, despite it's quality or lack of real content. It's primarily frustrating if you are aware of the large body of truly great work that will probably never be brought here, but that's also true of the American comics overseas. And then you see it's just another conflict of art and commerce and it's global universality.
If you haven't read Otomo's "Domu", I recommend it. It's a self-contained story and while it carries the whole "psychic" theme, it's a pretty damn good read. Oh, the art's not too shabby either.

12/08/2005 4:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm reading "Battle Royale" right now, primarily because I know it has an end. I see people come up with Flame of Recca #15, Vagabond #19, Rurouni Kenshin #20, or (blasphemy, I know) Lone Wolf and Cub #28 and I think 1. following any of these series ain't cheap ($12.50 Canadian each) and 2. What is this, The X-Files?? Tie up loose ends already!

12/08/2005 10:24 PM

Blogger Phil Looney said...

I'll defend Lone Wolf and Cub as saying that it's pretty easy to get the whole series - it's only 28 volumes.

12/09/2005 8:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll defend Lone Wolf and Cub as saying that it's pretty easy to get the whole series - it's only 28 volumes.

True. I guess I just gag at dropping 10 bucks a shot to the tune of over $300. And I recognize the argument that for 10 bucks, you're getting more than a regular comic, but really. Wrap this damn story up in 10 or 15 books already!

12/10/2005 10:24 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Easy to collect, yes. Easy to buy, not so much, if you're not picking them up monthly. It's the same thing with a lot of manga like that--I was really enjoying Excel Saga, which for the record is hilarious, but when I saw a translator's note in Volume 2 that referenced something really picking up in Volume 7, it turned me off of buying the whole thing.

12/11/2005 1:42 PM


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