Dear Masashi Kishimoto,

18 07 2009

(Massive Naruto manga spoilers!)

Dear Masashi Kishimoto,

I understand that Naruto is an incredibly long manga series, and that it’s incredibly difficult to draw/write a series week after week and keep it new and fresh. My hat goes off to you for creating such a popular series, one that I have enjoyed over the years.

However, you have to know by now that some things about your series have become cliche. For instance, whenever anyone in Naruto covers their eye(s) or for some reason their eye(s) is obscured it is automatically assumed that they have a Sharingan.

The first time, with Kakashi, the Sharingan reveal was a surprise. The Mangekyo Sharingan reveal with Itachi was a surprise because we’d never seen the Mangekyo before. The reveal with Obito wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t meant to be – we knew this was where Kakashi would be getting his Sharingan. The reveal with Tobi? Not so much. His mask is a giant spiral with only an eye-hole! Of course there was going to be something up with his eyes!

And so, giving Danzo a Sharingan after having him cover one eye the entire series? NOT A SURPRISE. For a clan that supposedly only had two members left, the Uchiha sure left a bunch of Sharingan eyes floating around.

Just thought I’d give you a heads up, because the internet? Not surprised at your twist.

Cat named cat

Rawr!  Naruto copyright Masashi Kishimoto & Viz

Rawr! Naruto copyright Masashi Kishimoto & Viz


Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Vol.1 (Manga)

30 05 2009

SZS is a niche manga. Period.

Just the title alone is enough to send casual manga readers packing, with its unapologetic, multi-syllabic Japanese, chock-full of consonants and an abundance of ‘u’s.

Once past the cover, first-time readers will be impressed by the artwork and confused by the dialogue. If they make it through to the daunting 11 pages of translator’s notes at the end, they’ll have gotten a small introduction to the ironic, sardonic, cynical, reference-filled, parodying world of bizarre characters that is Class 2-F, led by Mr. Despair himself.

SZS is bound to have another set of readers, however, and I have the feeling that Del Rey is counting on the hard-earned (or not) cash of the second set: the socially inept yet strangely socially conscious, black-humor loving, translator’s notes reading, anime/manga completionist Otaku. (Yeah, this is definitely where I fit in, I won’t deny it.)

Zetsubou-Sensei & his class - copyright Koji Kumeta, Del Rey

Zetsubou-Sensei & his class - copyright Koji Kumeta, Del Rey

The first volume of SZS sets the stage and introduces the main characters with short vignettes that explain each girl’s background.

Nozomu Itoshiki is an incredibly negative person who constantly despairs and dreams of suicide. Kafuka is an intense and oddly cheerful person who refuses to believe in negative events, even when they are happening before her eyes. Itoshiki ends up being the homeroom teacher in Kafuka’s class, and the story unfolds from there.

Kafuka works as Sensei’s foil, constantly thwarting his suicide attempts and refuting his rants against society. The series focuses on Sensei’s exploits in a classroom full of students as bizarre as he is. Five other characters are introduced in Volume 1, each with a quirk or characteristic that defines them and sets them apart (for instance, Meru, who only communicates through email – her name coming from the Japanese pronunciation of “Mail”).

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Vol 1 - copyright Koji Kumeta, Del Rey

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Vol 1 - copyright Koji Kumeta, Del Rey

Readers like me will have seen seasons 1 & 2 of the anime, as well as the 3 OVA’s that have been released in Japan; For these readers, SZS Volume 1 does not disappoint.

Del Rey’s adaptation preserves the strangely gorgeous full page spreads, as well as the extras such as attendance file inserts for the class members, the mock “sneak preview” that was released before the first chapter, the author’s ramblings in his “paper blogs”, the full text of Meru’s hateful email to Sensei, and more. Fans will recognize most of this material from the anime and appreciate its inclusion.

Japanese-language purists will appreciate Del Rey’s use of honorifics, and the reference-nuts can’t help but be pleased by the translator’s notes at the end (11 pages worth! Though I honestly wonder how much was cut for space …).

Even the cover pleases me as a fan of the series – the simple design with Sensei standing at attention holding his briefcase portable suicide kit is set against a cheerful pale pink, flowery background with lively pink lettering. It’s the perfect way to undercut the black humor of the series with it’s deceptively cute characters and artwork.

For all his craziness and generally dark view of society, Kumeta is also an excellent artist. His style is crisp and clean, with his lines so sharp that the anal-retentive, OCD character would undoubtedly approve. His art is incredibly detailed without becoming cluttered, and his contrast of white space with solid black is striking. First time readers may be put off by the bizarre characters or abundance of in-jokes and references, but they certainly won’t be by the art style.

The manga version of SZS won’t disappoint readers already familiar with the sociopathic 2F classroom, but it is a niche title whose black humor and extreme parodies will not appeal to everyone. Kumeta’s artwork is beautiful and bizarre, as are his characters.

Del Rey’s version certainly did the best it possibly could with this complex source material, but I don’t expect SZS to be a best-seller by any stretch of the imagination.

Our first introduction to Despair-Sensei - copyright Koji Kumeta

Our first introduction to Despair-Sensei - copyright Koji Kumeta

Review: PeaceMaker Kurogane Volume 1

17 04 2009

PeaceMaker Kurogane Volume 1 is not actually the first volume in this series – though ADV did license and distribute this one a couple of years ago without ever doing the first series. This is a new version by Tokyopop. Confusing!

PMK Volume 1 - Copyright Tokyopop, Nanae Chrono

PMK Volume 1 - Copyright Tokyopop, Nanae Chrono

In Japan, the first set of volumes to the story by Nanae Chrono was called “Shinsengumi Imon PeaceMaker” – which Tokyopop shortened to “PeaceMaker” – Ok, fine.

But then the series switched magazines in Japan, and became known as “PeaceMaker Kurogane” – which Tokyopop kept as is. Ok, fine. But ADV actually did a version of PeaceMaker Kurogane a couple of years ago … without ever doing the first series (“Shinsengumi Imon PeaceMaker”). So there are now two versions of the second part of the series (the new, Tokyopop one is what I’m reading) but only one version of the first series, by Tokyopop.


So, instead of stating the fact that PMK comes after PeaceMaker 1-5 … Tokyopop just calls it PMK Volume 1 and lets readers figure it out.

This is probably not the way I would have done things, but then again, I’m obviously not paid to do these things. So, confusing even loyal PeaceMaker fans, we have PeaceMaker Kurogane Volume 1, by Tokyopop.

Since it isn’t made completely obvious – PMK is a continuation of PeaceMaker and should be read after PeaceMaker volume 5. NOT BEFORE! The entire gag of the first chapter depends on previous knowledge of the characters – without knowing how ridiculous and juvenile Tetsunosuke is, or how hard-nosed and downright cruel Hijikata is … the joke would sail right over the reader’s head.

This volume jumps straight back to the story (after a brief time-skip of 3 months – which actually seems too short…) and builds on the incidents of PeaceMaker volume 5, which Japanese history buffs (and anime fans who pay attention) will be familiar with – the Ikedaya incident.

Dealing with the aftermath of the bloodbath at Ikedaya, the series turns a little darker, a little angstier, and adds a dash of the supernatural. I enjoyed the darker feel of the volume, but it may turn off fans who were simply looking for sword-fighting bishounen. The comedy is still there, as are the awesome sword fights – but there are also severed heads, pedophiles and creepy cat-children.

The mangaka even apologizes at the end of the volume for the “unpleasant scenes” and states that she is “mindful of the growing angst.” Even though this volume does deal with a lot of pretty disturbing subjects, it also adds character to Suzu (who had been pretty flat before, simply worshiping his psycho master Yoshida but lacking any personality of his own) and makes Tetsunosuke a little more interesting and a lot less annoying (taking away some of the Naruto-ness of his character).

The darkness of PMK Volume one adds a sort of spooky, doomed atmosphere to the story – which fits right in with the story of the Shinesngumi, not exactly a happy chapter in Japanese history.

One problem I had with this volume is that I’m really getting into the story – and yes, that’s a problem. Because I know that it’s going to end, and abruptly. The series never got a satisfactory ending in Japan, ceasing publication before the story concluded. The fact that I’ll never get to read the ending is leaving me in despair!

I’m really starting to dig the creepy atmosphere, and Suzu as an evil villain, gearing up for Yamanami’s betrayal and the upcoming drama with Itou – along with the introduction (finally!) of Sakamoto Ryoma, the weirdly awesome character with inexplicable dreadlocks. But I know it doesn’t have an ending! Despair! Despair, I tell you!