Grotesque Anatomy
Friday, December 19, 2003
  In Defense of Laziness
I started a thread over on the Dark Horse manga boards to pimp my manga reviews and received a reply that got me thinking.  In response to my negative Berserk review, a poster named Shinji Mimura wrote:
How much of the story have you read? Just the first volume? Because I thought your review on Berserk sounded pretty ignorant. Berserk brings up great philosophical ideas and is a great story in general.  It doesn't really pick up until the Golden Age arc, though.
I answered that I had only read the first book, admitting that I was ignorant of what happens in later volumes. (25 volumes have been published so far in Japan, with no end in sight.  For more information about the Japanese manga, see this site.)  But the comment made me wonder if I should have done more research on the manga to be fair.  After all, I knew it was a reprint, and I knew it was a popular series in Japan with multiple volumes.  It wasn't a brand new series where I had no information about forthcoming storylines.  I'm sure if I wanted to learn more about the series--such as whether any depth to Guts' character is ever revealed--I could have found that information online.

I think part of the reason I don't track down such information is because I don't want to spoil the enjoyment of reading the work itself.  When I finally got around to reading Akira this year, I was hooked after the first book.  I ordered the next couple volumes online, which meant that I had to wait for the books to arrive.  And because I always choose the Super Saver shipping, it was going to be awhile.  Now since the series was completed long ago, I could have looked online to find out what happened next.  But I didn't want to ruin the thrill of discovering the details as I actually read the story.  I would worry that knowing what was going to happen in advance would lessen the impact of having it all unfold before me.  After all, look what happened when I got impatient with the delay between the second and third volumes of the Battle Royale manga:  I read the novel, so by the time the next edition of the manga came out, the events were no longer as shocking or surprising as they might have been otherwise.

I suppose in the case of Berserk I could have looked up the info before writing my review, since I'm not planning to read any future volumes.  But even there too much knowledge could have colored my reaction to the work, and therefore altered my review.  I generally try to avoid reading others' takes on things I'm planning to review for much the same reason:  I don't want their perspectives to influence my own opinion too strongly, especially if I don't "get" something right away.  I'd rather put out my reactions, expose my ignorance, and have others fill me in on where I'm wrong.  (Which has been working rather well so far:  Readers in the DHMB thread have informed me of some of the deeper issues Berserk deals with.  And in the comments thread of my original reviews, Christopher Butcher has helpfully pointed out a couple areas where my analysis of Buddha wasn't as close or careful as it should have been.  When something is contrary to my expectations, I always forget to consider that the whole point may have been to challenge my assumptions.  Thanks to Christopher and others for taking the time to help me refine my thoughts.)

This is probably a good point to remind readers that I'm not an expert on manga.  I've only started reading it recently, and I've only read a handful of titles so far.  As I said when I was reviewing for Anime News Network, I'm new to this particular section of the sequential arts, so please forgive me when I make errors and omissions that seem obvious to a long-time otaku.  And just like a typical, stubborn-headed male begging for forgiveness, I'd also like to acknowledge that I'm not likely to change any time soon--or at least not very quickly.  This will probably sound as though I'm wearing my ignorance like a badge of honor, but I think my approach to reviewing manga will remain largely untouched:  I'll continue with the same "lifelong reader of American comics gradually exploring manga" routine. (I should check with Bill Sherman to see who used this schtick first.) 

Why do I like this approach?  Well, for one thing, I think it can be useful, since there are probably other readers out there who find themselves in a similar boat.  I'm sure there are other places to go if you want manga reviews from fans who know everything about the entire Japanese run of a title.  But as Dave Lartigue and others have indicated to me, there aren't many sites that review manga from the perspective of someone generally familiar with comics but still pretty green when it comes to manga.  I know I can't be all things to all people, but I'll at least try to be honest about who I'm trying to be.  (I'll also try to work in second opinions to offer perspectives other than my own; I tried to do that in earlier reviews but I forgot to do it in my negative reviews (aside from the reference to Bill Sherman's Ring review and the other Buddha reviews).) 

And of course the other reason is that I'm lazy. 
 
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Iron Fist

by John Jakala

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