100 Days of Manga.
I decided just before Christmas 2021 that my knowledge of Manga is poor. Sure I’ve read some of the classics, Akira, Domu, Lone Wolf & Cub, Eagle etc. but with the wave of cool new translations and the current buzz I decided to educate myself.
So I took on the task of reading Manga every day for 100 straight days. I started on the 20th December 2021 and as I type it is the 15th of January 2022 so I thought I would give an update and something of a mission statement.
It has been a revelation. I have admittedly gone for the more adult (not like that) comics and stuck to a lot of what are considered important works but some have been electrifying in content. We’ll see in another seventy-four days but I do feel like I’ve seen the light and been converted.
What follows is the first tranche of the books I have read in the experience so far. Thanks to buddy Tom Curry I have also taken the leap into the Shonen Jump iPad app so that will be getting a mention too along the way.
See if there are any that take your fancy as I give a few brief reviews. Thanks also to the kind folks over at the Awesome Comics Podcast Slack for some great recommendations and tips.
The works of Shigeru Mizuki. My first impulse buy that opened the door to this project was ‘Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths‘ a book that my pal Jason Wilson has been nagging me to read. The Manga dates back to 1973 and tells a somewhat fictionalised version of the mangaka’s own experiences in World War Two. Mizuki is the father of ‘Gekiga‘ dramatic manga movement with this one-off comic. It is brutal, brutish, sad and full of dark, dark humour. The Master mixes in elements of more realistic drawings of the war landscape along with more recognisable manga styled faces and personalities. It feels like a book that you should know about and I’m glad that I do now.
This did take me a couple of hundred pages to really get into the groove. Many might feel that the style is a little old fashioned but this raced along and you soon get used to the quickness of page turns and shortcuts to personality, character and emotion used here and elsewhere in more historic manga titles.
More Gekiga will follow.
The other two books of his that I have read so far are more in the ‘Yokai‘ area of the medium. Aka ‘Strange Apparitions’ Yokai is a class of stories that deal with supernatural entities from Japanese folklore. ‘Nonnonba‘ and ‘Tono Monogatari‘ are a different fish from the aforementioned war book. They live in shorter formats with more fantastical stories but all three keep that sense of history and hold it with a realistic reverence. Knowledge of the past will lead to the avoidance of mistakes in the future etc…
I’ve also had a look at some of the comics pages and animation from Mizuki’s famous Manga/Anime GeGeGe no Kitarō. That’s some wacky sauce!
You can find all these books for sale in physical copes here. They are also all available from the ComiXology comics app.
Next up I’ll be tacking the mangaka’s Showa: History of Japan series as it also looks amazing.
The above are the three short (for Manga anyway) collections of stories by mangaka Yoshihiro Tatsumi and published by Drawn & Quarterly. They are produced in the western reading format (a left to right reading formation) and are very reasonably priced at £11.99 for a volume that each contain around 200 pages a time.
I am in solid agreement with the sentiments of Gilbert Hernandez‘s comments in his pull-quote on the back of the ‘Push Man‘ volume. ‘..he shot straight to the top of my short list of favourite cartoonists..‘ I wholeheartedly agree with that view and also can see that Tatsumi holds many of the same storytelling loves that you see in all of the works of the Hernandez Bros. There are depictions of the underclass in Japan in these pages. There is no overly sentimental approach but rather a realism that manages to be extremely emotionally affecting. These are the poor, the criminal, the desperate of post war Japan. There are themes of poverty, sexuality in both interactions and societal contexts and a broadly delivered morality play of a type. You will watch these men and women live and also learn a little.
Probably my favourite find so far. You can find his books here.
I also have this gem lined up for part of the project. It’s not one you can fit in your bag on the tube so will be reading it on the couch. 840 pages and available right here.
Another one. OK.
‘Emanon‘ – volumes 1 – 3 is possibly a departure from the more solidly historical books previously in this piece. Written by Shinju Kaijo and with art by Kenji Tsuruta this is a fantasy with elements here and there of romance. This also evidences something else that I am learning about Manga that is if you don’t grab it while it is hot and on the shelf it may be difficult to find as a physical copy later. I have volumes 1 & 3 in digital form and only volume 2 IRL. It plays merry havoc with my comic collecting sensibilities.
Emanon, for the cunning among you will have spotted is ‘No Name’ backwards. And that is what this hippy teen girl is, a mystery. She wanders Japan holding memories from since the dawn of life on the planet. This is a curse to her that she will then pass down to her child and consequently forget. Volume 1 is the strongest of the three and I would have been just as happy if it ended as a one-off – but you know Manga…
The series starts with an accidental meeting between Emanon and an unnamed man on a ferry. They spend the night chatting and romance enters the mix. She tells him her secret. The first time in many centuries she has trusted anyone enough. But after a brief kiss they fall asleep and when he wakes he finds her gone. Then 13 years later he is sitting on a train platform and he sees her again. I won’t spoil the rest on the first volume as it is a great piece of storytelling that deserves a look.
Volume 2 threw me and went all a bit Blue Lagoon! Maybe avoid that one. Volume 3 got back on track but nothing so far has been as good as the short story effect of volume 1.
You can try and grab some copies on ComiXology here as I think you may have trouble finding physical copies.
Kaiju No #8 is a long way from the works of someone like Tatsumi but is a great read nevertheless. Story and art by Naoya Matsumoto. You can buy a physical copy still of the first volume here (at £6.55 it is a great deal) and I read onwards using the aforementioned Shonen Jump app. Jump on the physical copy as I know it sold out quickly at Gosh Comics in London after favourable reviews at the 11 O’clock Comics Pod and over at The Awesome Comics Pod.
It follows Kafka Hibino (I’m loving the cool names of Manga characters by the way) as he works on the clean-up crew that sorts out the bodies and destruction of beaten Kaiju as they breach Tokyo. He holds an ambition to finally join the ranks of the 3rd Division of the Defence Force. But even the cleaning can be dangerous and he and newbie Rene Ichikawa are attacked and wake up later in the hospital. A strange demon wasp jumps down Kafka’s throat and he develops powers and is named by the TV Crew as Kaiju Number 8.
This book rocks. It is full of impressive scenery, amazing battles, personal interplay and some societal commentary about the worth of a work ethic. It ends on a really effective cliffhanger that had me subscribing the Shonen Jump app so I could read onwards.
This is perhaps what you might presuppose the manga of Shonen Jump looks and reads like but it has an adult storytelling style beyond the big monsters stuff. When I began this learning curve I was keen to avoid the more kiddie side of the medium and this most certainly doesn’t read like that. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Some other quick mentions include.
Trash Market by Tadao Tsuge this is another collection of semi-autobiographical gekiga short stories. It has a more underground art style by Tsuge and is also unflinchingly honest and often reflects the hard side of the world. It was published in original Japanese in the magazine Garo between 1969 and 1979 and is translated here again by Drawn and Quarterly in a westernised reading format.
‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture‘ by Ruth Benedict is not a manga at all (sorry) but an examination of culture in Japan from the end of the 19th century to the painful post war period post Hiroshima. It was genuinely an education that sat beside my recent reading of ‘Barefoot Gen‘ by Keiji Nakazawa. I found the manga and the first anime movie based on it extremely painful so felt that I needed to read more about the history of Japan. This was recommended to me by pal Colin Roberts as a good place to start. It is highly recommended.
You can find a copy right here.
If you haven’t read Barefoot Gen then keep your ears open as it will be coming up in an upcoming episode of Never Iron Anything in February during the ‘Old Blokes Read Manga’ series. Following on from that we’ll also be tackling Manga March on the Awesome Comics Podcast and I’m sure it will get a mention then too. Required reading dear comics fan.
You can find a copy of Barefoot Gen in most big bookshops and the first movie is available to watch in a number of different formats (dub/subtitles) on YouTube at the moment.
The above isn’t all that I have read so keep your eyes open for more updates. I’ll also be talking about ‘Bat Kid‘ by Inoue Kazuo on the Awesome Comics Podcast this week. Get your copy here.
Gosh Comics still have a couple left at the time of typing after a restock or if you are in the US you can grab a copy here.
Many thanks for reading.