Grotesque Anatomy
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
  Miscelleanous Manga
Found some cheap manga at a local Half Price Books:

Crayon Shinchin v1Crayon Shinchan vol. 1 by Yoshito Usui (ComicsOne • 120 pages • $9.95)

Crayon Shinchan is one of the funniest comic strips I've read in a long time.  In his review of the first volume, Greg McElhatton compared Crayon Shinchin to another comic strip featuring a mischievous young boy as the lead character, Calvin and Hobbes.  Only as Greg pointed out, Shinchin makes even Calvin look pretty tame.  Shinchin may look like a five-year-old boy, but he acts more like a dirty old man, hitting on single women (see second panel below) and reading pornographic magazines at the bookstore.  Even his parents notice that little Shinchin seems a bit strange for his age, wondering why he doesn't act more like a normal five-year-old.  But then Shinchin's parents aren't much happier when he does things most tots do, such as draw all over himself (and I mean all over himself) or ask embarrassingly frank questions at inappropriate times.

I've included some sample panels below, and readers who'd like more of a preview can check out a 30-page PDF sample from ComicsOne to see if they'd be interested in this book.  The pages shown are pretty representative of the series overall.  One thing that might turn people off is the very simple (one might even say "crude" or "primitive") artwork, but I thought the amateurish art actually fit the material:  The bare-bones art provides an innocent cover for the PG-13 humor, much as Shinchin's childlike appearance conceals the "mature themes" that occupy his thoughts.

Island v1Island vol. 1 by In-Wan Youn and Kyung-Il Yang (Tokyopop • 168 pages • $9.95) 

Half Price Books had a number of different "volume ones" from Tokyopop, so I thought I'd try out one since I haven't read much from this darling of the bookstores. (I think I've only read their Battle Royale and Rising Stars series.)   I flipped through a couple different books, but nothing caught my eye til this one.  I saw some of the horror art inside and it looked creepy enough, so—hoping for another Uzumaki—I purchased Island.

As they say, "I've read Uzumaki.  You, Island, are no Uzumaki."

Yeah, it's probably not fair to compare every horror manga (or every horror comic, for that matter) to Uzumaki, but what can I say?  I've been spoiled.  And even if I try to put on my Objective Reviewer's Hat, I still think Island falls short considered in its own right:  The action sequences are confusingly rendered; the sexual violence is crass and gratuitous; and the central characters are extremely unlikeable.  It's never a good sign when you find yourself wishing the main characters would just hurry up and die.  Pan, the main protagonist, is supposedly a serial killer, and he's the character who "saves" the female lead in the story's opening sequence.  Given the oblique way in which this information is revealed in the story (and the coy manner in which Toykopop's website addresses the matter: "Pan is a man of mystery. He may be a serial killer."), I'm guessing that Pan is in fact not a serial killer.  Which makes the back cover's explicit identification of Pan as a serial killer all the more misleading, and all the more annoying

Another drawback with a book lies with the binding, not the storytelling.  On several pages, artwork and word balloons disappear into the gutter.  This is especially irritating when it obscures a character's dialogue.

On the positive side, the art is nice enough.  It's fairly detailed, and there are some nice design elements.  But as I mentioned above, many transitions from panel to panel are confusingly staged.  And this might be more of a personal taste thing, but I didn't find the actual demons frightening.  Yes, they're fittingly grotesque, but the whole Aliens look isn't that disturbing.  The representations of humans possessed by demons, however, are much more effective (see below).

This review of Island is pretty amusing, and they seem to like it much more than I did, so consider it a second opinion.

(And, yes, I know that this book is more accurately categorized as manwha (Korean manga), but the word is so close to manga anyway, and Tokyopop publishes it, so let's call the whole thing off.)

Sanctuary v1Sanctuary vol. 1 by Sho Fumimura and Ryoichi Ikegami (Viz • 344 pages • $16.95)

tells the tale of two young men's attempt to infiltrate the Diet.  But this is no idealistic political manga like First President of Japan.  In fact, Sanctuary is like First President's evil twin:  The main characters join the Yakuza, beat opponents brutally, and blackmail rivals in order to advance politically. 

The storytelling in Sanctuary is deceptively simple:  Dialogue is sparse; characters and backgrounds are rendered fairly minimally; and multiple panels are often employed to stretch out a single scene or reaction.  The last bit probably sounds familiar to readers of today's comics:  "Hey, that's that decompression everyone's always talking about, isn't it?"  Well, yes, I guess it is.  I feel funny using the term to describe the storytelling of Sanctuary, though, because "decompression" seems to have taken on such a negative connotation nowadays (padding, stretching things out, lack of a competent editor, etc.).  I prefer to think of it as "dramatic pacing."  Of course, it helps when you have actual drama to pace, and Sanctuary has that in spades.  (Another factor in Sanctuary's favor is that when Ikegami uses one close-up after another of the same character, he actually draws different close-ups rather than just repeating the same panel over and over again.  It's nitpicky, but that "cheat" is so overused in so many comics it's really come to bother me.)

Despite the seeming simplicity of this book, Sanctuary is extremely engrossing.  I couldn't put this book down until I'd read the whole thing.  And then once I'd reached the end, I wanted to rush out and read the next volume.  (Looks like the reviewers at Artbomb had a similar experience.)  Instead, I went back and re-read the first volume over again, this time mainly appreciating Ikegami's gorgeous artwork.  I love the confident line work Ikegami uses to define a hand or a suit.  I love the expressive faces he draws—each character looks distinctive and remains consistently recognizable throughout the book.  Finally, I love the women he draws; Ikegami's females are voluptuous and sexy, but never in a pandering or titillating way.  (I would have put up some samples of Ikegami's "erotically charged" (back cover blurb's word choice, not mine) artwork, but I like to keep this blog "work-safe" so instead you get pics of Ikegami's old men, something else he draws extremely well.)

Meanwhile, In Other Manga News...

ADD and Augie agreeing on something—a manga series, no less? Now I've seen everything. Hmm, I might have to check this Planetes out. And you're right, Augie, Kill Me, Kiss Me does sound pretty interesting:  "Laced with cross-dressing high jinks and madcap hilarity wrapped around a tender story of one girl's pursuit of true love, Kill Me, Kiss Me is a charming tale of adolescent angst."  Having grown up watching Bosom Buddies, I'm always up for some cross-dressing antics.
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