Classic tales of Japan and new stories from the US have washed up on the shores of Manga Island this week, and it's a great time to be a manga fan. I've been enjoying the variety and individuality of the titles from East and West lately. There are so many great books that it's been hard to choose what to shout out across the Island, but it is "Basilisk" and "Dogby Walks Alone" that have really grabbed my interest recently.
Fans of the "Ninja Scroll" anime and its successors are in for a treat with the Del Rey's release of "Basilisk." Adapted from the original novel series "Ninja Scrolls" by Futaro Yamada, Masaki Segawa spins the tale of ninja conflict in feudal Japan. The later part of the Keicho period (1596-1615) provides the historical backdrop for this story of freaky super powered ninja combatants, honor, treachery, love, and tragedy.
As Shgun Ieyasu Tokagawa dissolves the uneasy truce between the Kouga and Iga ninja clans, a challenge is issued to determine who will rule for the next thousand years as the next Tokugawa Shogun. Ten ninjas from each clan must fight to the death to determine who will rule. While members of each clan are itching to fight after four hundred years of feuding, there are others who wish to put the feud behind them. The Iga clan's cute and niave Oboro and the Kouga clan's talented and stoic Gennosuke are engaged to be married soon. Things are complicated further by the fact that there are two scrolls that announce this new deadly contest, which must both be brought to the Shogun to claim the prize of rulership. Since many of the combatants do not even know the information the scrolls contain, the ones who possess them hold the lives and deaths of those named on the scrolls in their hands. Part death duel and part relay race, the first volume of Basilisk sets up an intriguing story for fans of historical drama and ninja powers.
The art of "Basilisk" is beautiful, a mix of soft shading and hard-edged characters, Masaki Segawa's characters have an originality and dynamism that sets them apart from many similar shonen stories. Since the main focus of the story is often on the ninjas and their bizarre martial arts disciplines, Segawa is given free reign to design some of the weirdest heroes and anti heroes that still retain and air of realism. The action sequences are occasionally confusing, but they flow very well and have a very cinematic touch. I can't wait to see the official release of the anime, if it is even half as action packed as the manga, it should be a treat. Another interesting touch is the use of photo realistic backgrounds in many of the scenes. Segawa is able to transition between hyper realistic backgrounds and full on speedline and forced perspective panels with ease. The action has a sense of motion that feels like animation as you are turning the pages. The way that fight scenes are handled reminds me of some of my favorite comics from China, such as "Storm Riders" and "Hero," only with a Japanese story telling angle.
Not having read the novel, it is hard to say how much of the characterization is from Futaro Yamada and how much is Masaki Segawa, but each of the characters (even the minor ones in book 1) are lively and unique. The freakiest are extremely weird and the girls are cute, even when they are surrounded by snakes or oozing immobilizing ink. I found myself not knowing exactly who to root for because most of them were so cool.
The only drawbacks to me were a few confusing action panels and the fact that it may not be mass market since it is a very mature title. Blood flows, breasts are bared, and vicious death is the order of the day. It may not be shocking to fans of the "Ninja Scroll" anime, but the average Naruto fan may be a bit too young. It is perfect for anyone graduating from shonen works like Naruto to works like "Basilisk" and "Berserk."
As usual, Del Rey includes some great historical translation notes for those who may not recognize certain figures from Japanese history as well as some really nice cultural notes and honorific explanations. Also included is a preview of book 2 in Japanese for those who want just a bit more "Basilisk." The setup for volume 1 had me wishing that volume 2 was out in English now, as I was turning pages as furiously as pacing of the book would allow. Fans of more mature manga should get everything they want in this one, from the top notch cover treatment, gorgeous art (including color pages in Japanese with those same pages faithfully reproduced in English in black and white) and over 200 pages of ninja action.
"Dogby Walks Alone" by Rising Stars of Manga runner up Wes Abbot is one of the most unexpected and subversively entertaining books that I had the pleasure of reading. On the surface, it would seem that a story about theme parks, cute mascots, and cute queens of the park would be saccharine sweet. Wes Abbot takes the family friendly world of theme parks and turns it on its ear; uncovering the world of the theme park adults always speculated is lurking behind the scenes. After winning a runner-up spot in the Rising Stars of Manga contest from Tokyopop (in addition to his work on a comic with Coheed and Cambria's Claudio Sanchez) , Wes set about turning "Dogby" into a full global manga story. The result is a mix of comedy, drama, and adventure that works like a well run rollercoaster.
Dogby is a mascot at the Happyplace theme park, dealing with thieving shift supervisors, managers who supposedly drink blood, and a princess that everyone is infatuated with. When Happyplace is invaded by armed mercenaries and mascots from a rival park, Dogby must rely on his sleuthing, acrobatic, and amazing martial arts skills to repel the invaders. In addition to the armed invasion, Dogby and his partner Snack Girl (who runs one of the soda and churro stands in Happyland) must solve the mystery of who killed the Princess and why.
It's surprising how much character Dogby has considering he never talks, except for the sound of silence, "…" His gestures and body language tell it all, not a mean feat considering he is dressed in a mascot suit that has one permanently affixed expression.
Wes Abbot certainly has a handle on visual storytelling, and his sense of dramatic and comedic timing is proven time and again in his panel layouts. This is another global manga title that is influenced by manga, but still has a totally unique flavor that blends many styles into one that the creator can truly call his own. Abbot has a keen eye for where to put detail and where to pull it away, and his action sequences have a nice flow to them as well. There are also some nice visual gags in the chapter break pages that show Abbot's range as a comic book artist and a comedy writer (and a pop culture enthusiast). Movie posters ("Chinatown"), video games ("Metal Gear Solid"), other comics (a nice rendition of a Dogby GI Joe cover), and music (the Abbey Road Cover) are all parodied in clever ways. Being around the same age, I found all the videogame, movie and comics references throughout the book hitting on all cylinders for me. Anyone in who enjoys movies and video games, especially those of us growing up in the '80s, should read the book more than once just to make sure you don't miss any of the great gags.
So, if you are looking for a unique global manga with lots of wit, drama, tragedy and action, you owe it to yourself to pick up "Dogby Walks Alone." It is nice to see a book that is in the tradition of how Japanese manga parodies itself and manga culture carried out with an eye to what American manga and comics readers tend to enjoy. It isn't all clever in jokes and parodies, as Dobgy's relationships are poignant and dynamic. They add a nice counterpoint to the action and adventure side of the book, adding in something for everyone who enjoys a well executed story. There are also some really nice twists and turns that keep the story from ever becoming stale, and the whole tale is wrapped up nicely, so that it isn't so harsh knowing that it may take some time to get the volume 2 of "Dobgy" Knowing that the release date for volume 2 is months away, if it's anywhere near as good as the first volume, it will be well worth the wait.
I'm hoping that the year is full of unique comics like these, and I will be anxiously awaiting their arrival on the shores of Manga Island. As always feel free to drop by the forums or drop me a line and let me know if there are any cool, fun, and unique books out there. I thrive on hearing how our Manga Island broadcasts are doing. Keep reading and keep rocking out the manga!
Publisher: Del Rey
Volume 1 of 5
Rating: Mature (Bloody Violence, Nudity, Adult Themes)
"Dogby Walks Alone"
Volumes 1 of ?
Rating: Teen 13+ (Violence, Adult Situations, mostly PG 13)
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.