THE SEVEN SEAS OF MANGA
This week we sail the seas, namely the Seven Seas of OEL manga. Seven Seas has been an innovator in OEL manga, and recently they have branched out with their first licensed properties in the form of the "Boogiepop Phantom" (more on that in future CMI articles) franchise. Seven Seas' slow but steady growth has made them a company to watch over the past year. The controversial decision to produce all of their books in right to left format, no matter what their origin, has fueled much debate in the online community, almost as many debates as their stance on creator ownership. No matter which way you enjoy reading comics, it shouldn't prevent you from enjoying the following books.
"Unearthly" by Ted Naifeh and illustrated by Elmer Damaso, in my opinion, is everything an OEL manga should be and perhaps we aren't ready for it. After reading the news on Ted Naifeh's blog that perhaps there wasn't going to be an Unearthly volume two, I had to make sure I spread the word to Manga Island and beyond. You see, the only reason it hasn't appeared here before )other than how hard it is to fit everything into the column that I want) is because I was convinced that surely it was cool enough that everyone would be reading it and getting the word out. Shoujo OEL has done quite well, and this one seemed to mix what I dig about Shoujo and a little bit of shonen sci-fi and romance into one book that I thought should bring in open minded "Lum" and "Ah My Goddess" fans as well as those who are into high school drama and love triangles from told in eastern manga and western comics. Obviously this hasn't happened, and it seems that a section of fans may be missing out on a neat book that blends heartfelt love of manga with a definite Western voice.
"Unearthly" deals with a love triangle that eventually spans the universe. What starts simply enough as a crush for the wallflower Ann, on a not so popular, but cute boy, Jem escalates quickly. It seems that the most popular girl in school. has her sights on the unassuming Jem as well. And so Ann must contend with not only being unpopular, but also the fallout from being hated by the most popular girls in school. As if that wasn't enough, Jem is suddenly acting strange and neither she nor her stylish and obnoxious, but always in-the-know best friend Nikki can figure out exactly why. Things escalate as an interstellar man (boy?) hunt threatens to turn the love triangle between Ann, Rae, and Jem into an intergalactic fiasco. Not content with just telling a high school romance story, Ted Naifeh threatens to take shoujo to the start. "Unearthly" indeed!
Elmer Damaso has rendered the Ted Naifeh's world of "Unearthly" with a style that is as manga like as any OEL I've seen. His characters are well drawn, and the toning, panel layout, and action scenes are top notch. When his art is married with Ted Naifeh's story, it becomes something that I would love to see more of, a shoujo style book written by a Western author where the characters are definitely not from Japan. This has worked really well for many female authors in Tokyopop's OEL lineup, and this book has all the hallmarks of a cool shoujo tale and then some. Bishounen guys, tough girls (Rae is popular and kicks butt!), action, romance, first love, and intergalactic intrigue all appear in the first issue!
"Unearthly" sports some really nice extras as well. There is a kind of mini "making-of" sketchbook in the back, detailing the development of the characters and what the book might have looked like if it had been illustrated by Mr. Naifeh himself. It also contains a heartfelt shout out to doing a book your own way. Ted talks about how he was told that shoujo fans "don't want to read about sci-fi" and "it all has to take place in high school." "Unearthly" definitely shirks these notions, and to me that is a good thing. I hate it when "the man" seems right about something, especially when it dictates how an artist should tell their story. I have to give it up for the "Unearthly" team for turning out an OEL that bucks some of the conventions, but ultimately stays true to what I love about the genre. As, I've said before the writer isn't afraid to have kids in Tool t-shirts and using American slang appropriately (Ok, Nikki may use a bit too much slang, but that is my own take on it). I think it's a shame that whatever reason, "Unearthly" has slipped between the cracks for manga and American comics readers alike. If you are open to OEL, dig solid manga inspired art, shoujo, and/or sci-fi 'Unearthly" is definitely worth it. Fans of "Outlanders," "Stellvia," the art of "Seraphic Feather" and the like, as well as high school romance should check out the book as well. I mean a guy with Eisner nominations, who writes a cool book like "Polly and the Pirates" with a love of shoujo combined with an artist who obviously loves the genre, can't steer you that wrong, can they? Check it out next time you are in the manga section of your favorite store, and if you dig it, write Seven Seas and let them know!
Literally sailing the manga seas is another fun OEL manga "Captain Nemo," written by Jason De Angelis and illustrated by Aldin Viray. This is a book I've been waiting for since I read the synopsis on Seven Seas' site and read the preview pages. Steampunk and swashbuckling tales have always been favorites of mine, and "20,000 Leagues" left quite an impression on me as a kid. If you are a fan of all of those things, this is the book for you!
Set in 1893, "Captain Nemo" in this case refers to the son of Jules Verne's most famous submariner. DeAngelis and Viray's Nemo is a mix of Captain Harlock, Alucard from the Castlevania series, and Vampire Hunter D (with a little Spike Spiegel for good measure). In a world where the French Navy still remembers the events detailed in Verne's literary classic, the manga version eschews the realism of the original and goes straight for entertaining and over the top manga tech and adventure. Captain Nemo and his crew strike out against the villainous Napoleon IV and his lieutenants such as the formidable Admiral La Rocque. Of course, as in the original, Captain Nemo has captives that are trapped on his submarine (the redesigned, deadlier Nautilus), this time in the form of the beautiful, intelligent and willful Camille Pierpont, daughter of the Vice Minister of Security. Camille unwillingly joins the crew after her boat is attacked by Nemo on a voyage to the site where the original Nemo sent many sailors to a watery grave. Nemo keeps an odd (and very Harlock-like) crew, including the knife wielding daughter of Jack the Ripper, Sarah Wakely, a crude but intelligent first-mate Dan Rutherford, and the diminutive genius engineer. Philip Brown.
There is no shortage of action, even for a set-up book as most first volumes are. In volume one alone, there are gun battles, sword play, shark fights, prehistoric monsters in ancient underwater temples, and a host of swashbuckling and steampunk fanstasy, culminating in a vist to 19th century Japan. De Angelis does and great job in keeping the flavor of the original Jules Verne flavor. In conjunction with Viray's art, they succeed in diving it an OEL manga flair that enjoyable to read as it is to look at. Aldin Viray's long lithe style is perfect for the very Harlock-esque hero and his crew. The attractive tall, willow characters flow deftly from page to page and action to action. The backgrounds and detail that one would expect from the plush submarine home of Nemo are all present in ornate abundance. Tech and organic underwater environments are handled equally as well, with some nice touches here and there. I stayed enamored with the characters and their costumes throughout the book, and I especially dug the Jin-Rosh/ Gundam F-91 look that the elite French Navy guards sport earlier on in the book. They look imposing and menacing, one of the nice steampunk elements (along with things like the diving suit design) that sets the book apart from the "real" world, in a good way. My only critique would be that the toning of the book takes some chances with mixing hard, large dot tone areas in some pages next to soft lit pages, and some pages with smooth toning. I think the experiment works for the most part, but there were few areas that were distracting to me. Over all the toning, esp. in some of the underwater sequences is very nice.
Seven Seas also offers a gallery at the end of the book, with early production sketches, sexy thumbnails of the girls of the Nautilus, and notes about the creators. While not quite as extensive as some of the Del Rey manga notes, the extras are a neat addition to these books and give an insight into the creators as well as a peek at the creation process behind the book.
So if you are a fan of steampunk, romantic daring do, such as Captain Harlock, and the like. Or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Errol Flynn movies, and the classic "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" this book should be right up your manga alley. At the least, it is a fun romp through classic literature with some over the top manga elements for good measure. I will definitely be following the further adventures of Captain Nemo.
Seven Seas is definitely an example of a company doing what appears to be the right thing. I look forward to many more books from them. They definitely have a place on Mange Island any time, as I will be back with reviews of their "Boogiepop" licenses at a later date, along with other strong OEL titles. Until then, sail the OEL Seas and I'm sure you can find something that you dig. There are many comics creators who are influenced by manga and anime and whose passion for it colors their art and writing and fuels them to do stories that everyone can enjoy.
Publisher: Seven Seas
Rating: Teen, for romantic situations and some language
Publisher: Seven Seas
Rating: Teen, for violence, some language and partially nude (but clothed or draped) female bodies
Links of interest:
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.