This year's New York Anime Festival was a little short on new manga announcements compared to years past, but Vertical's Editorial Director Yani Mentzas and Marketing Director Ed Chavez gave fans a few titles for 2011 worth looking forward to, including a new twisted tale from manga master Osamu Tezuka and another title from rising star (at least in the U.S.) comics creator Usamaru Furuya.
The Book of Human Insects (Ningen Konchuki) by Osamu Tezuka - July 26, 2011
Ruthless and seductive Toshiko Tomura is the mistress of reinvention. As she becomes an actress, a designer and a novelist, she leaves a path of destruction in her wake.
"The Book of Human Insects has a really compelling lead character," said Mentzas. "This book slightly pre-dates Ayako, but I consider it to be a sequel to Ayako. Like Ayako (Toshiko) is a woman who's not innocent for similar reasons; she's a woman with a troubled past."
Ningen Konchuki has also been translated as Human Metamorphosis, but as Mentzas noted, the actual word "metamorphosis" isn't in the Japanese title; "konchuki" refers to the word "insect." In fact, a lot of the characters have names that evoke insects. "Metamorphosis is one aspect of the insect comparison," said Mentzas. "The story goes into everything that you think bugs do, like the nastiness of the bug-eat-bug world."
No Longer Human (Ningen Shikaku) by Usamaru Furuya - September 13, 2011
Based on the novel by Osamu Dezai, No Longer Human focuses on a young man from a good family who gets caught up with the wrong crowd, and begins a descent into debauchery and self-destruction.
"It's a really tragic story, but it's extremely compelling," said Chavez.
According to Wikipedia, Ningen Shikaku was originally published in 1948, and is the second-best selling novel in Japan. It was adapted as a live-action movie in 2009 and adapted into an anime. Furuya's adaptation is a 3-volume series, with the third volume due out in Japan in mid-2011.
In addition to these two new titles for 2011, it's also worth noting the other upcoming Vertical manga releases that were previously announced at other events.
Ayako by Osamu Tezuka - November 30, 2010
The next Tezuka release from Vertical is getting the deluxe treatment. Originally released as three volumes in Japan, Ayako will be released as a single 704-page hardcover book with a cloth-covered slipcase. Noting its flesh-colored case with just a striking image of a nude Ayako on the front, Mentzas remarked, "It's like touching Ayako!"
The story of Ayako begins after World War II. Japan is under occupation, and it's undergoing massive social, cultural and legal changes under General MacArthur. We see these reforms through the eyes of a rural, conservative family as they're seeing their vast estate being broken up and their land redistributed.
Born as the semi-illegitimate daughter of the family patriarch and his mistress (who is married to the eldest son of the family) Ayako is locked away from the world from the age of 4. She is both innocent and tainted by her family's depravity and social descent.
"(Ayako) becomes one of the most potent symbols of post-war Japanese culture; of things left unseen and hidden after WWII," said Mentzas. "This is probably the most historically-rooted story by Tezuka — there's nothing supernatural here; you're just dealing with normal people. It's a lot like Ode to Kirihito without the Monmow disease; it's completely a work of naturalist literature like the works of (Emile) Zola or (Henrik) Ibsen."
Lychee Light Club (Litchi Hikari Club) by Usamaru Furuya - April 19, 2011
Originally announced earlier this summer, Lychee Light Club is the first of Usamaru Furuya's works that Vertical added to their roster. Based on the French Grand Guignol Theater tradition of gruesome, Gothic horror, Lychee Light Club is full of reasons why this title is rated 18+ and shrink-wrapped to protect the easily offended.
For one thing, there's a bunch of fascist teenage boys who create a robot designed to abduct women. Why do they do this? Because they want to find a perfect and "pure" woman to fulfill their fantasies. But things don't go according to plans, when the girl they find ends up turning Lychee against his creators. According to Chavez, there's also elements of "boy-on-boy action" here too.
"As in some science fiction stories, the robot ends up being the most human character," chuckled Mentzas.
2011 is turning out to be the year that U.S. manga readers will be rediscovering the twisted genius of Usamaru Furuya's stories. Back in the day, VIZ Media published Short Cuts by Furuya, and included a short story by him in their alt manga anthology, Secret Comics Japan. In November 2010, VIZ Media is releasing Genkaku Picasso, Furuya's series for Jump SQ about a young artist who must use his drawing skills to help other people — or his arm will rot off.
Velveteen & Mandala (Becchin to Mandara) - Jiro Matsumoto - August 9, 2011
"Zombie madness from the creator of Freesia," or at least that's how Chavez introduced panel attendees to this one-shot previously announced at Anime Weekend Atlanta in September.
Sure enough, the undead play a big role in this extreme horror manga story, as two girls named Velveteen and Mandala go on a mission to exterminate the zombies who dwell in their once-pleasant Tokyo town.
"This will surprise a lot of people," said Chavez. With scenes like one described by Mentzas with a character on all fours "shitting and puking at the same time," you can bet this grown-up graphic novel isn't one to lend to grandma to turn her on to that manga stuff you're always reading.
Q & A TIME: TALKING TEZUKA, IPADS AND MORE
A lot of the questions from the fans at the panel were focused on Tezuka titles, specifically Barbara, a seinen manga title described by the website Tezuka in English as one of his "most erotic" works, and Princess Knight (Ribon no Kishi), a beloved early shojo manga adventure/fantasy series for younger readers about a young girl who must masquerade as a boy to protect her kingdom.
Princess Knight: "Princess Knight always comes up with Tezuka Productions and with Tezuka fans," said Chavez. "There are a lot of puns in the dialogue that are tricky to translate. However, I can see us doing the packaging with velvet covers with pink and purples. It's just a matter of time for most of Tezuka's works." Mentzas added, "We have things that we are looking at before (publishing Princess Knight)."
Barbara: "Barbara was high on our list," said Mentzas. "We're working hard on another Tezuka license for Fall 2011."
Another question that came up was whether Vertical would follow the numerous other publishers at NYCC / NYAF who already have or announced plans to offer their comics and graphic novels in digital format for online viewing or for the iPad or Kindle.
"We are working on eBook editions of our titles," said Mentzas. "We may have four out next year, and offer a range of our back catalog titles." But don't hold your breath waiting to read Vertical's Tezuka titles this way.
"We don't have the digital rights to Tezuka's works at all," said Mentzas. "Tezuka Productions were adamant that they wanted to retain their digital rights (to their titles)" However, all is not lost - many of the Tezuka manga translated and published by VIZ and Vertical are becoming available via Tezuka Productions' Astro Boy Magazine for the iPhone.
So what do you think? Which new Vertical title for 2010 - 2011 are you most looking forward to reading? Add your thoughts below!