WARS FUTURE AND PAST
This week on Manga Island is a special one for me. You see, my first published comic (second one I've co-written) is in stores all over and not only that, but it is in the Manga section all over. Despite the semantics of what it should be called (and to some people should it even be there), it's there and I am proud to have my own little piece of permanent real estate here on Manga Island. "Psy-Comm" has been a labor of love and my co-writer, Jason Henderson, our artist Shane Granger, and my editor Bryce (together with our marvelous inker, toner, and the great people at Tokyopop) have worked really hard to put out a book we are all proud of and we hope you dig it. It's pretty surreal to see the book sitting there on shelves next to some of my favorite authors, but its there, with its new book smell and everything. I hope you'll at least thumb through it and let me know what you think.
Since it would probably be a very biased review anyway, and we have an interview coming up on CBR soon, I thought that this week's journey to Manga Island should take us through the trenches of wars outside of the psychic wars of "Psy-Comm" and into wars in possible futures and the past we wish were only imagined.
"Frontier Line" is a collection of 6 war stories all tied into the central story of a civil war on a newly colonized planet called Sodom. I am a huge fan of Yoshihisa Tagami, so I was very excited that Central Park Media decided to put out this collection of Frontier Line (a bound collection of the original 5 volume series they put out) so long after Viz published "Grey."
The back story is told through a rather wordy (full of alien names, casualty numbers and dates) introduction, and is brought up in each story to tie them together through a central theme. The idea of the two warring faction who are dependent on the tech of and also fearful of the indigenous population of Sodom adds an interesting twist to the standard themes of civil war. Each of the stories holds up well and there are plenty of opportunities for Tagami to combine his obvious love of western settings with hardcore mech and war stories. There are more than a couple ponchos and cowboy hats to compliment the guns and mechs spread through out the story.
The art in "Frontier Line" is not quite as clean and crisp as "Grey" but is still recognizable as Tagami and has that familiar 80s feel. Tagami seems much influenced by mechs like L-Giam, Votoms, Gundam and Orguss, but many of his trademark design elements can be seen throughout the book. One of my favorite stories; Episode III R.A.T. has mechs that seem cribbed from the designs of Kow Yokahama's "Machine Krieger" model kit line. Especially since it's been a fanboy dream of mine is to have that story [which appeared in hobby magazines in Japan] in some print or visual media format. My only negative other than the sometimes hard to follow back story is that the printing of the volume is sometimes uneven. However CPM manga has left in Yoshihisa Tagami's miscellaneous notes in the margins, which are almost as fun as the stories themselves. In the margins, he thanks a person who loaned him a hose, curses his PC, and swears that he has had enough of toning complex war stories. If you're in the mood for mechanized war with a variety of stories, look no further than "Frontier Line.'
Publisher: CPM Manga
1 volume (compilation of 5 smaller comics)
Rating Teen + (my rating, based on violence and some language)
Story by Buronson
Art by Kentaro Miura
The second Buronson-Miura teamup I've had the pleasure of reviewing, this is a hard one to predict just how it will play out. Once again the author of "Fist of the North Star" teams up with the artist of "Berserk" for time traveling mayhem. This time a Yakuza thug and his entourage follow a reporter to Spain in order to woo her. While there, they encounter a group of Japanese tourists and a mysterious old woman who regales them of the fall of Carthage, warning them that Japan could suffer the same fate. Through a strange twist, the group of travelers is transported to the future where much of the world has collapsed and Japanese people are refugee, scattered from their homes and preyed upon by Neo-Europeans. It is up to the Yakuza boss to unite the people of Japan and rally back against the world that has turned against them.
I'm really loving this teamup a lot. The stories are interesting and the art is of course classic Miura quality, only this time full of dystopian "Road Warrior" and "Thunderdome" imagery. I haven't quite figured out if "Japan" is pure escapist fantasy, a cautionary tale, or if Buronson truly feels that the world could so easily turn on Japan and its citizens. I suppose the Japanese-American camps in the USA during World War II may have an influence on this view, but it definitely makes for an odd and original plot twist. The world and its politics are interesting, if a bit far fetched, and the plot moves along at a fairly brisk pace. I never thought I would see a manga that mixed elements we've seen in movies like "Red Dawn", a dystopian future, travel, Yakuza, the fall of Carthage, and a little bit of romance (or as romantic as Buronson and Miura tend to be), but here it is.
If you are a fan of these creator's works, you probably have a good idea of what you're getting into when you pick up one of their books. "Japan" doesn't disappoint, and it's definitely something that I will be picking up to see how the story carries from book to book.
Publisher: Dark Horse
Volume 1 (Volume count still unknown)
Rating: 18+ Mature readers (shrink-wrapped and full of the hallmarks of Miura's and Buronson's works. Not for kids!)
It's back to the real world of sorts and tales based on reality in "Apocalypse Meow" by Motofumi Kobayashi. Originally entitled "Cat Shit One" (a reference to "Dog Shit One" lower classmen at West Point), Kobayashi pens a story of the Vietnam war where all the characters are animals. The USA is represented by rabbits, Vietnamese are cats, Russians are appropriately bears, and Chinese are pandas. "Apocalypse Meow" was a book I read when I first started on Manga Island and it has stuck with me all year. Representing the characters as animals is an interesting twist to telling the stories of the combatants in Vietnam and it works in much the same way as Spiegelman's "Maus." While not quite the literary equivalent of mouse, the stories contained in "Apocalypse Meow" have all the hallmarks of movies and books we have been exposed to about that conflict. The story is told in a series of short vignettes with recurring characters. Much like war comics that we may have seen in the past, each tale is a small part of a bigger conflict with a huge cast. Luckily for the reader, Kobayashi provides copious footnotes and an extensive glossary and info section in the back of each book. The first volume even contains a story with realistic characters instead of the anthropomorphic animals used throughout the book, and gives a glimpse of what the story might have been like if it were told entirely realistically.
"Apocalypse Meow" isn't escapist manga and does not pull punches. Its cute characters stand out against the brutality of war and allow for perhaps even more empathy from the reader. If you are looking for a good war story (however oxymoronic that may be from such a terrible conflict), you should enjoy "Apocalypse Meow." It is sure to stick with you long after the latest angsty robot fighters, battle monsters, and teen dramas have been replaced by the next generation of the same stories.
Rating: Teen 16+ Violence and Language befitting the subject matter and time period
"Eden: It's an Endless World"
Finally we go back to the future in "Eden: It's an Endless World", a graphic and touching story that spans several generations in the first volume alone. Hiroki Endo brings us a tale of world on the edge of collapse due to a virus that hardens its victims into living statues. It's a gruesome and painful end brought on by a military experiment gone horribly awry. Of course, that same military then threatens to use its power to try to take control of the world. "Eden" is primarily a tale of survival told through three generations in just the first volume. We see a brother and sister and their caretaker, a military scientist, flashbacks of the world before the viral cataclysm, and then into the future/present story of a boy named Elijah who is aided by a combat robot.
The story flows nicely and is a great mix of introspection, bloody violence, emotion and future viral terror. Hiroki Endo is extremely adept at drawing characters and future tech, from military bases and equipment to strange cybernetic implants, to characters of all ranges and even the gruesome shells of the virus victims, the art in "Eden" is very rich. The cover of "Eden" with its watercolor look and feel, stands in contrast to the violence and mayhem contained within, and highlights the more introspective moments that stand out in the book. There are many scenes in "Eden" that evoke the kind of languid character development and emotion one can see in the works of Momaru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor). Dark Horse provides some great technical notes in the margins for the political and scientific terms in the book, a boon for those of us who don't keep a dictionary of acronyms on hand. Another nice touch is the change to black margins between panels for flashbacks, which instantly set them apart and eliminate some confusion for the first half of the book, where flashbacks play a key role in the developing story.
"Eden" is definitely high on my recommend list if you are looking for a futuristic yet grounded in reality tale with some great character development. I put this on my "Must Read" shelf for this month, most definitely.
Publisher: Dark Horse
Volume 1 (of 12+)
Rating: 18+ for violence, disturbing images
This week also marks almost a full year of bringing "Calling Manga Island" to the readers of CBR and beyond. That's a cool and surreal feeling. I can't wait to reach the year mark with the next column and I thank all the readers, publishers and CBR staff for making Manga Island a great place to visit. Also, thanks to everyone who may be picking up "Psy-Comm" this week or very soon (and if you already have it). I'd love to hear from you, in email or on the forums!
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.