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Thursday at Comic-Con: Gekiga for Grown-Ups and Best/Worst Manga

By July 29, 2010

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Lum cosplayWhile Preview Night gave fans a taste of what was to come, Thursday was the first official day of San Diego Comic-Con, and fans came out en masse to experience North America's largest comic, sci-fi, movie, TV, gaming and pop culture extravaganza.

The first major event of the day was a screening of a new trailer from Disney's Tron: Legacy movie in infamous Hall H - the 6,000-seat venue where the biggest, most buzz-worthy movie/TV screenings and celebrity sightings are scheduled. I vaguely regretting not seeing electronic duo Daft Punk performing live (they're featured on the Tron: Legacy soundtrack), and was a little bummed that I had to miss seeing the cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World chatting up the film version of Bryan Lee O'Malley's super-fun graphic novels.

Sean Michael WilsonI also heard lots about Angelina Jolie showing up to introduce Salt, her new action flick, but I didn't have hours to waste standing in line to see a movie trailer that'll be all over the Internet eventually. I was in San Diego to check out what's new and cool in manga, and frankly, there was more than enough manga events, news and new releases to keep me plenty busy all day.

So while the movie and sci-fi crowd oo'ed and ahh'd over scenes from Tron, I was camped out at the "Manga for Grown-Ups," panel, listening to Scotsman-in-Japan Sean Michael Wilson, the editor of AX: Alternative Manga Vol. 1, chat up the history of gekiga ("dramatic pictures"). Ryan Holmberg, the curator of a recent NYC exhibit of Garo magazine was also on hand to talk about the historical context of this influential (but now defunct) avant-garde manga magazine.

UPDATE: The Comics Journal has posted videos from this panel. Enjoy!

Tobacco-ya no MusumeThe pleasant surprise of the panel was when Leigh Walton announced that Top Shelf was releasing even more manga in 2011. Cigarette Girl (Tobacco-ya no Musume) is a collection of short stories by Masahiko Matsumoto, one of the fathers of alternative manga in Japan. Matsumoto-sensei was mentioned frequently in Yoshihiro Tatsumi's manga memoir A Drifting Life as one of Tatsumi's peers, and a major force in the development of gekiga, or 'manga for grown-ups.'

UPDATE:  Wilson recently posted about his experiences at Comic-Con on his blog.

Speaking of manga for grown-ups, Fantagraphics hosted the first of four autograph sessions with shojo manga legend Moto Hagio on Thursday. To commemorate Hagio-sensei's first visit to a U.S. comics convention, Fantagraphics debuted the absolutely gorgeous hardcover edition of A Drunken Dream at Comic-Con, roughly six weeks prior to its scheduled release. I'll post more about Hagio-sensei's Friday and Saturday panel appearances when I also post my interview with her later this week. To tide you over, check out Fantagraphics' video of Hagio-sensei drawing for a fan - it's pretty fab.

At a time when a lot of manga publishers have become risk-adverse to publishing classic manga (which lately means anything created before 1990) or anything that's not geared to teen readers , it's heartening to see that indie publishers like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics are joining Drawn and Quarterly, Last Gasp and Fanfare-Ponent Mon to publish smart, artistically innovative and diverse Japanese comics for grown-ups in North America.

Super Pro K.O.Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley was on hand at the Oni Press booth signing copies of his graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour, the latest and final volume of this hugely successful series.

Also at the Oni Press booth: the debut volume of Super Pro K.O.!, an action/comedy comics series about an aspiring pro wrestler. According to Oni Press Marketing Director Cory Casoni, Super Pro K.O.! is heavily influenced by Japanese manga like Dragonball and the over-the-top theatrics of American pro wrestling. It's a fun read, with lots of action, humor and Dragonball-worthy hairdo's - worth a look if you're a sports manga fan.

Other manga and anime panels included "The Best and Worst Manga," featuring comics critics Jason Thompson (Manga: The Complete Guide, Otaku USA), Shaenon Garrity (ComiXology, The Comics Journal), Carlo Santos (Anime News Network), Chris Butcher (Comics212.net, Toronto Comic Arts Festival and The Beguiling) and I, as we picked the most interesting and the most wretched U.S. manga releases of the year.

Pluto Vol. 7Naoki Urasawa's sci-fi suspense series Pluto and 20th Century Boys topped the list, along with foodie manga Oishinbo by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma, Chi's Sweet Home by Konami Konata, Karakuri Odette by Julietta Suzuki, A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and Peepo Choo by Felipe Smith.

We definitely didn't agree on everything. Butcher was deeply annoyed by the translation of Ooku enough to nominate it as one of this year's worst, while I singled it out as one of my current favorites. Go figure!

The year's worst manga? The panel picked Orange Planet by Haruka Fujishima (a shojo manga story about a girl who's so pretty she has two boys vying for her affections. Boooring.) Thompson also singled out Togainu no Chi, a pretty boy suspense series that didn't make a whole lot of sense. My "good god, it peeved me so much, I wanted to throw it across the room" pick was Red Hot Chili Samurai by Yoshitsugu Katagirl, a series about a host club-wannabe samurai detective who has a fondness for chewing chili peppers while wielding a tooth-pick thin sword. Positively pointless. (I'll post the rest of our comments from "The Best and Worst Manga" later this week, because they were definitely quotable).

Shaenon GarrityImmediately after The Best and Worst Manga panel, many fans stuck around for the "Lost in Translation" panel as translators and editors William Flanagan (Kobato), Jonathan Tarbox (Fist of the North Star), Jason Thompson (King of RPGs), Shaenon Garrity (Kekkaishi), Stephen Paul (Moyasimon), Mark Simmons (Mobile Suit Gundam series) and Jake Forbes (Return to Labyrinth) discussed the ins and outs of translating, editing and localizing Japanese manga for the American market. Lots of lively conversation about current issues in the manga biz ensued, including the impact of scanlation on their profession. Stay tuned for a transcript of that panel to follow soon too.

Bandai Entertainment announced two new anime licenses for 2011 release: Turn-A Gundam and Tales of the Abyss, and a new manga title: Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens. Turn A Gundam is one of the latest installments in this mega-popular mecha  series. It was directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, one of the creators of the original series, and features robots designed by Syd Mead, conceptual designer for Blade Runner.

Kannagi Vol. 4Tales of the Abyss is a 26-episode fantasy action series based on the video game from Namco Bandai. The story focuses on Luke Fon Fabre, a young man, who after seven years of captivity, is dragged into the center of a massive war.

On a lighter note, Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens by Eri Takenashi is pretty much what the title suggests: a quirky comedy about a pretty goddess who is awakened from her long slumber, then sets out on a mission to "cleanse the world of impurities." Kannagi has already inspired an anime series, so the manga version of this comedy about these kooky cuties will probably have a built-in audience once it hit the stores in 2011.

After the Bandai panel, a group of manga and comics bloggers, comics/anime pros and I headed to Analog Bar in the nearby Gaslamp District for food, fun and karaoke. The décor is hip, the servers were friendly and it was an easy walk away from the convention center. The food took a while to come out, but when it did, it was pretty tasty (Tater Tot nachos!). The drinks were nice and strong and the karaoke made the night extra enjoyable. Recommended!

I had a blast, but all this after-hours partying made it harder than usual for me to post daily reports. (Sorry.) But well, the conversations I had and the people I met made it worth it.

SyFy Channel BagsOn top of all that, I got a call from MTV Iggy to write daily reports for their blog, so I also had that to do too. It was fun to write, but that also ate up some of my time and energy. Here are my Wednesday and Thursday daily reports for the MTV Iggy blog.

I also wrote a round-up of the most intriguing manga news of Comic-Con 2010 for Publishers' Weekly this week too.

So it was a busy week for me. I could have powered through to keep writing, but I had to get some rest before another full day at the Comic-Con on Friday. After all, this was only Day 1 - there was still three more days of the show to go.

NEXT UP - Day 2 at Comic-Con: A conversation with Moto Hagio, new titles from VIZ Kids and Yen Press, an encounter with the TokyoPop Tour crew and yet more parties.

Image credits: © Deb Aoki, © Masahiko Matsumoto,  PLUTO © Naoki URASAWA/Studio Nuts, Takashi NAGASAKI and Tezuka Productions. Original Japanese edition published by Shogakukan Inc., © Eri Takenashi / ICHIJINSHA


July 29, 2010 at 3:08 pm
(1) Dave says:

I’ve not been able to grasp why anybody liked 20th Century Boys.
It starts out well enough, with interesting characters and a great premise. But it just gets worse from there. The writing is sloppy, the story is boring and unimaginative after about the first third, and the climax is about the complete opposite of a climax since there’s no tension left in the plot by the time the author has dragged us to it. (Not to mention it is silly, the plot is left with a million loose ends, and the epilogue, 21st Century Boys only serves to extend the boredom rather than try to correct any of this).

I still don’t get it.

July 29, 2010 at 5:46 pm
(2) Anon says:

20th Century Boys starts out brilliant, continues to be brilliant but takes on some weaknesses and bloat and has an ending that is aimed more at thematic and artistic consistency than at entertainment value.

A million loose ends? Hardly. Slopping writing? Not really, the only thing that could count is the Virtual Reality, because it’s hard to suspend disbelief for it and it’s mostly there to help tell more about the past when flashbacks wouldn’t work.

No tension left? Maybe not for you, but I know a lot of people were still along for the ride.

And calling the story “boring and unimaginative” is just baffling. Really? That doesn’t describe pretty much ANYTHING in 20th Century Boys. It’s incredibly imaginative.

Maybe you could cite some concrete examples. Otherwise I’m more convinced you’re just the odd one out in terms of taste but are confusing that for the series’ objective quality.

July 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm
(3) Dave says:

It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I’m not keen to pick it back up.

But I’d like to hear some concrete examples of why the story is good.

From what I remember, the height of tension in the entire story happened one third of the way into it, and the next two thirds were nothing but falling action. And still NOTHING is resolved by the end.

What strikes me the most about this comic in comparison to the other Urasawa stories is how little character development happens throughout it. Of course it is hard to develop the main character (spoilers follow) when he is ostensibly dead for the majority of the story (and therefore not present for most of the comic). And of course it is hard to develop the villain too, when he also dies, and is replaced by a clone villain whose identity and motives are never really made clear.

Additionally, for claiming that this story was not about the secret identity of “Friend” Urasawa did an excellent job of making the story revolve almost entirely around the characters trying to figure out who Friend really was.

So what does 20th century boys have going for it? Because I’d really like to know. I might even pick it back up and reread it if somebody tells me.

July 29, 2010 at 7:08 pm
(4) Anon says:

I’ll try my best to get specific, but it’s more difficult to get concrete with what Urasawa gets right than what he gets wrong because mistakes stand out more naturally than success (except for exceptional success). I also haven’t read it in a while, so I won’t be able to recall everything.

I’m going to ignore the first third because you seem to like it.

I disagree, for instance, that the height of the tension is in the initial confrontation with the robot (which I assume is what you were referencing). It is certainly a peak in the tension but there are at least two more significant peaks that stood out more to me:

Volume 12/13 when Friend is confronted in the school, for instance. The entire backstory built up in the science laboratory is surreal and eerie and of course Friend’s identity as it stake. The resolution of that confrontation is also shocking and throws the reader immensely out of balance but not the plot, as is revealed by the next peak which is around Volume 16 when the Pope plot set up WAY back in the first third finally comes to fruition in a spine-chilling Xanatos gambit. The entire build-up there had me way more on edge, frankly, than the confrontation with the robot.

From there on out I agree that the action is mostly falling, and I think tension wise 20th/21st Century Boys employs too many false endings to work though I think the epilogue works extremely well. There’s still worthwhile stuff in it though, including the entire drama built around the vaccine. Yabuki Joe is also awesome.

I disagree that nothing is resolved by the end. I think most everything important is. The fates of main cast, the themes of the series, the burning question of Friend’s identity. It doesn’t hand it to you on a platter, but nor did Monster (and even Pluto at the end never came out and explained itself, you still had to pay attention and piece it together yourself).

I also disagree on the character development front. I actually think Kenji’s development is one of the best in the cast alongside Yukiji. I think his characters were stronger in Monster, and frankly I don’t think development is always necessary. Otcho as an adult serves as a pillar of integrity and strength and didn’t need to go anywhere after his initial development in the first third. Yoshitsune spends the entire series dealing with an issue that I thought worked well. Maruo and Mon were depicted in a suitably complex manner, though they didn’t really develop in a “progressive” manner from A—>B.

Regarding Friend1, I thought he was INCREDIBLY well developed. Friend2 would be hurt by the same kind of development though, most of what we understand about him has to be read from what’s implicit in the series themes and in what we’re given in the ending. Furthermore, he’s so out of touch with reality I don’t it’s appropriate to depict him in the same way. Johan is similarly enigmatic. We don’t even encounter the most significant formative memory Johan has until the final chapter of the series, and even then the way it ties into his character and motivation isn’t made explicit.

The rest of what the series has going for it on the positive end is too pervasive to give concrete examples. The paneling and the art are excellent, facial expressiveness is Urasawa’s usual excellence. The sprawling cast and complicated events tie together in a largely plausible and logical manner over the course of a 24 volume multi-decade story with no filler to pad it. The characters are entertaining, and have no less than two dimensions (including many of the side characters).

And finally, I think it has an important message about each generation relates to the past. The duality of Friend as a manifestation of narcissistic presence and nihilistic absence is also, I think, a relevant exploration of important attitudes that have affected us in the past century manifesting in tyrants and modern man more broadly.

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