Saturday, 29 January 2011


Since appearing about a year or so ago, Viz's Ikki line of manga has always been worth checking out. (I'll probably get around to quite a few of them as time goes on) Its sealed state from its 'Mature' rating means that browsing in store is difficult, but you can get a taste of all the titles on the official website. Chapters are published for free, and once a volume's worth has been translated the archive is deleted and a retail copy is made available for general sale.

Not being one for webcomics, digital copies, e-books for whatever they're call these days, this hardcopy junky skipped the previews entirely and bought volume 1 of Dorohedoro on the blind. It's a tactic that's been tried on more than a few occassions as it reaps all kinds of unusal surprises and curios. This time round what I found was one of the more quirky, bold and fun titles being released at the moment.

Caiman is a victim to a Sorcerer attack and is left disfigured with a lizard-like appearence. He has no recollection of how he got it, who gave it to him, or who he was before his transformation. Luckily by chomping down on peoples' heads, a man in his throat (bare with me) rises up through it and dictates who is or isn't the 'one'. It's the only lead he's got as to what's going on, not much but it'll do, so he and his partner Nikaido decide to solve the mystery while taking out their revenge on as many Sorcerers as they can on the way.

It's a bizarre scenario in an equally bizarre setting. Living in a slum and populated by all manners of weirdos and social oddities who have a penchant for wearing boiler suits and gimp masks, Dorohedoro's setting and design is striking and one of its strongest features. The thorough attention of detail given to the rough scratchy drawing style creates a convincing world that helps you accept all the freaky stuff that goes on. The strong characters help bring this over along with a particularly carefree sense of humour. There is a lot of violence, and it's true a few of these characters are real sadists, but their everyday banter and humour in face of the increasingly surreal circumstances helps to not alienate or freak out the reader.

Certainly not for everyone, but the combo of gore and dark humour certainly hits the spot. File this one under guilty pleasure.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Neko Ramen

I've kinda written about this one before elsewhere - guess it can't hurt to rip/paraphrase it to here...

Neko Ramen: The title describes pretty much everything: It’s a cat. He makes noodles. That's it.

For my money it’s the best new title Tokyopop's put out in years.

Laid out predominantly in the 4koma style, Neko Ramen follows Taisho’s day to day life as he runs his noodle bar, experimenting with new recipes (which are consistently awful) and going through an unusual array of part-timers of varying reliability and species type. He has one regular customer, which in one way makes you wonder why Taisho bothers, but that's part of his tenacity and charmingly oblivious regard to his unique position.

With every other series out there striving to be ultra-cool and slick, Neko Ramen’s style is loose, low in detail and generally not trying to impress anyone. It’s hidden strength is in its writing in portraying the relationship between strong/deluded Taisho and long-suffering but continually intrigued Tanaka. It’s is funny, but your mileage may vary. Some might find the joke starting to wear a little thin as the volumes pass, but the steady release schedule helps avoid this issue. Undemanding fun.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Hell Baby

Okay, we're getting onto the good/more bizarre stuff now. ^_^

Hideshi Hino's is one of those artists who you classify as being 'an acquired taste', which makes it quite difficult to describe the appeal of his work. His style is exaggerated, possibly cartoonish for some, ugly for others, but Hell Baby is a good example of Hino at his most stark and dramatic.

Born a hideous deformity and having a taste for blood, an anonymous baby is dumped on the garbage tip and left to rot. Dying, and then mysteriously resurrecting, the girl lives a life of drinking mud and chewing on putrefying animal corpses just in order to maintain her own decomposing body. Anybody still with me? Then I shall continue... After a few years of crawling and grunting about the girl comes to feel a certain absence in its life, and ventures into the city in search for the family that cast her out. So after a cannibalistic killing spree she finds them and is granted the chance to take revenge on them all.

It's hard to say just what kind of message Hino is trying to send, but for me its darkly satirical method and pulpy vibe should be taken only at face value as pure entertainment. It's a wrong'un to be sure, but those made of sterner stuff (and possessing a twisted sense of humour) would do well to chance it.

Converts would do well to venture elsewhere into the Hino Horror series. 14 volumes emerged before it got cancelled, and they vary in quality vastly, but for an artist who's relatively unknown in the western (at least to most manga fans) there's a pretty decent amount of English material out there.


4koma comics are a personal highlight for me. Simple and straightforward 4-panel strips which are basically laid out as:

1 - The scene
2 - The twist
3 - Development
4 - Result

4koma these days are generally susceptable to being moe-driven comedy manga and released in thinner volumes than your standard manga. I'll probably want to check a few different 4koma series out, but Ichiroh! is a pretty good place to start as it fills a lot of this criteria and makes them work well to its needs.

The title refers to the main characters' position of having failed their college entrance exams, and having to take a year out as ronin to study and re-enter the following year, which is a basic enough premise for a bunch of girls to hang out and do stuff. The archtypes of characters are fairly typical for harem-type humour (the stalker, the penny-pincher, the gamer etc.), but without the series-killing need of a male lead to drag the all-female cast around.

It's not a world changer, but as it doesn't try to be there's no reason to expect that from it. It's stupid fun and maintains its sense of humour as the volumes go on. For me Ichiroh is the yardstick to whch other modern 4koma should be compared. Many such titles tread the same ground, but this one has just the right mix of irony, idiots, sarcasm and proper character-based humour that stand in defiance of the usual stilted archetypes. I recommend. :-)

Monday, 24 January 2011

Mermaid Saga

Rumiko Takahashi is a long-standing mangaka, most well known these days of Inu Yasha, Ranma 1/2 and Urusei Yatura. She's incredibly prolific, easily capable of churning out books by the dozen, but while more often than not her titles start out strongly, after 15 or so volumes they start to run out of steam and recycle to same jokes and ideas.

Mermaid Saga is comparatively short at 4 volumes, so though not wanting to venture 50+ volumes of Inu Yasha, but still wanting their Takahashi-styled supernatural/monster fix would do very well to check this out.

Centering on the premise that eating the flesh of a Mermaid will make you immortal, the series follows a young-appearing couple who have notched a fair few hundred years between them while investigating rumours surrounding the mermaid in hopes of escaping its curse. The promise of immortality is always prone to attract the worst sort of people, so it's no surprise that a steady line of nutjobs are after it and will take anyone who gets in their way. Ranma never had to deal with having one of his eyes gouged out, but this is the level of nastiness that Takahashi introduces here which may surprise fans of her lighter work. The violence is ugly with many of the characters being irredeemable obsessives. It makes for gripping reading and its short length means it doesn't outstay its welcome.

It's a short and sweet entry in Takahashi's works, and one I'd put as being essential reading alongside Maison Ikkoku (trust me, it's really good). Hardcore fans can dive right into her more epic works, but for sampling her more interesting and intense work, I'd go for this one.

Mission Statement!

Simply put I'm a big manga fan and read all kinds of bits and bobs, and sometimes I get the urge to talk a little about the cool things I bump into. Nothing deep or meaningful most likely, but more a 'look at this - IT'S AWESOME!' kind of critique.

It doesn't have to be an amazing or life-changing work, but if its entertaining or notable despite being rubbish then it'll probably be something I want to check out. There will probably be a general skew towards more alternate/OTT titles, more classic titles as well, but I'll mainly just play it by ear.

Manga's the real focus of the blog, but it shouldn't be a surprise if I venture into the world of anime, video games or anything else that takes my fancy. As a side note I'm not into scanlations or fansubs at all, so everything I'll be working with is legit (which makes things more fun if you're hunting for an obscure title).

This is a casual thing, so no updates for lengthy peiods isn't unexpected. Let's just have some fun! ^_^