Let’s Get Visual: Wild Adapter

MICHELLE: Hey, Melinda, did you know there was a Wild Adapter MMF going on?

MELINDA: I’ve heard rumors to that effect. Terrific series, Wild Adapter. Whoever is hosting it must have great taste!

MICHELLE: I’m relieved you think so, because in honor of the Feast, we’re devoting this month’s Let’s Get Visual column to that series!

MELINDA: We are? Oh! Yes, we are!

MICHELLE: One of the hosts has already done an admirable job scanning some of the many significant images from the series (at great personal cost) but that won’t stop us from talking about a few more.

In Wild Adapter, creator Kazuya Minekura tells her story through the eyes of observers. Sometimes these figures are opposed to our main protagonists—Makoto Kubota and Minoru Tokito—in some way, such as the detective in volume four or the new youth gang leader in volume six, and sometimes they are with them, either in a personal way (their young neighbor Shouta in volume five) or a more business-like fashion (Takizawa the journalist in volume three). In every case, though, we rely on their interactions with Kubota and Tokito to learn more about said fellows, since we are denied access to their thoughts.

As I reread the series, I noticed that Minekura also uses her art to support this narrative choice, and that she, in particular, uses a similar device several times where Kubota is concerned. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Volume 2, Chapter 11 (TOKYOPOP)

Here, Tokito stops Kubota, who has violently come to his rescue. Kubota instantly sheds any vestige of excitement, and throughout this two-page spread, his eyes, like his thoughts, feelings, and motivations, remain shielded. He’s distant and aloof. Yet when Saori suddenly realizes that Kubota is the one who’s possessive of Tokito, he offers her a small smile. She finds the experience scary, and I agree that it could be construed as an ominous expression, but it’s also a stunning moment of access to what Kubota feels.

MELINDA: I agree that it’s a stunning image, and while I can appreciate Saori’s response, like you, I’m mostly fascinated. As you say, Kubota is a character who deliberately shuts himself off from other people, and now, as we’re granted this tiny moment of access, it becomes really clear why. In these rare moments, with just a small smile and a real look into the eyes, he’s suddenly wide open to us, and the guy that we see in there is nothing like the person he displays the rest of the time. And that’s a guy he really doesn’t want people to know. Maybe he thinks that guy is scary, I don’t know. But it’s clear that when he does grant access, he’s pretty much an open book—probably more so than characters who are generally open to begin with. Does any of that make sense?

MICHELLE: It does, and you’ve provided me with an excellent introduction for my next example!

Volume 3, Chapter 18 (TOKYOPOP)

This scene takes place near the end of volume three, during which Kubota and Tokito have infiltrated a cult that they erroneously believe is connected to Wild Adapter. Here, the guys are looking very casual and cozy, and while Kubota admits to Tokito that he has become more human, he does it while facing away from the audience. We see the back of his head and a hand holding a cigarette as he speaks. This is a moment reserved for he and Tokito alone.

Kubota doesn’t say it outright, but it’s clear that it’s Tokito making him feel this way. And when Tokito goes on to lament their progress in their investigation, the warm and open-eyed smile of Kubota’s at the bottom of page two makes it clear he hasn’t yet changed mental gears. He’s still thinking about Tokito.

MELINDA: To me, these soft, openly caring eyes are just as much of a shock as the more terrifying look we see in your first example. It’s clear that both of these looks are genuinely Kubota, but you get the feeling that Tokito is the first thing that’s ever inspired the feelings behind this look.

I have to really admire Minekura’s skill with expression here, too. Though some aspects of her artwork are very detailed, she actually doesn’t include a lot of detail when it comes to eyes. Yet what she’s able to do with just the barest nuance is, frankly, incredible.

MICHELLE: But wait, there’s more! Minekura uses this technique again in volume four, with very different results!

Volume 4, Chapter 22 (TOKYOPOP)

Here, we see Kubota being interrogated by Hasebe for a murder that was committed in a hotel. Kubota’s not giving up any information, so it makes perfect sense that he would be evasive, as indicated by the closed eyes on the first page. Hasebe continues to push, however, and Kubota finally gives up pretense and opens his eyes, allowing us access once more. Only this time, we’re not seeing a warm and friendly Kubota; we’re seeing a coldly resolute one. The grey screentone over his face emphasizes that this is just a partial disclosure—he’s revealing the extent of his determination, but anything else is still off-limits.

MELINDA: It’s the narrowness of his gaze that really achieves this effect, but again, it’s done with most subtle detail. And you’re right, he’s giving the detective just exactly as much as he wants to give him, no more, no less. It really gives you a strong sense of how carefully he controls everything about himself, and just how rare the two previous examples really are.

MICHELLE: Yes, you’re quite right! The amount of openness Kubota will permit with other people is infinitesimal compared to what Tokito is allowed to see.

Well, that’s it for me and Kubota’s eyes. What images did you want to talk about?

MELINDA: I’d like to talk about a scene from the end of volume two. It’s one I’ve discussed a couple of times before, both in my initial review of the series and in my infamous post on “intimacy porn.” It’s one of my favorite scenes in the series, and I’ve already explained quite a bit about why.

Volume 2, Chapter 12 (TOKYOPOP)

As you can see, Tokito has hidden himself away in the shower to deal with pain in his claw hand, and as he wrestles with both the physical pain and emotional turmoil the hand causes him, he realizes that Kubota is on the other side of the shower door, doing laundry.

When I’ve talked about this scene before, my focus has always been on the incredible intimacy of it, and how beautifully Minekura creates this intimacy while putting a physical barrier between them. What I’ve never discussed before, however, is the detail that, in my view, is almost solely responsible for bringing us into the scene as readers, and that would be the sound effects.

I have no idea what the sound effects really say. I don’t read Japanese, and I haven’t asked anyone to interpret them for me, but really, I don’t have to. It’s actually the visual effect of the Japanese sound effects that makes them so effective.

We feel it from the beginning, with just Tokito—the soft sounds of the shower accompanying his thoughts. Then the rumble of the washing machine joins in as Kubota enters the scene. By the end, we’re surrounded by it all, the soft shower and the muffled rumbles of the machine, creating a shell of sound around the characters, isolating them from the rest of the world, but including us as intimate onlookers.

I’m always impressed by writers and artists who can create a real sense of place on the page, and Minekura has done this by surrounding us in these familiar sounds. We can imagine ourselves in the room—feel the rumble of the washing machine under our feet and the thick humidity of the steam as it wafts out around the edges of the shower door. It’s so beautifully done.

MICHELLE: Oh, I love the image of a shell of sound. I like, too, how the initial thump of the washing machine literally intrudes onto Tokito’s thoughts in the way that the sound effect bleeds over the edge of its panel and onto the next, where Tokito, with water streaming down his face, has now been momentarily distracted.

MELINDA: Yes, I love that frame you’re talking about, where the sounds of the washing machine suddenly intrude into Tokito’s thoughts. It’s as though the washing machine has spoken up to say, “We can hear what you’re thinking in there, and yes, he would be angry if you cut off your hand.”

MICHELLE: Do you actually want me to tell you what the sound effects say? Or is it better not to know?

MELINDA: Sure, tell me!

MICHELLE: The first one you see, and the one that appears most often and prominently, is “zaa,” which is frequently used alongside rain or falling water. It’s the “a” sound that travels down that first page and drifts across the final two-page spread. On the second page, when Tokito clenches his hand in pain, the sound effects say “zukin zukin,” or “throb throb.”

I was unfamiliar with the “goun” sound accompanying the first image of the washing machine, so consulted Google and found a site that helpfully describes “goun” as “the sound of a washing machine.”

MELINDA: Ah, helpful indeed.

MICHELLE: One of my motivations for teaching myself kana in the first place was to be able to decipher untranslated sound effects. It slows me down, reading each and every one, but it does add something to the atmosphere, I find.

Another thing I notice in this example is how Minekura treats the “zaa” sound effect, allowing it to trickle down the page along with the water in the first instance, and in the last, depicting it wafting laterally past Kubota, almost like escaping steam.

MELINDA: What’s really amazing to me, is how successfully this effect is achieved even without understanding the kana. The visual representation of the sound is so powerful all on its own.

MICHELLE: Definitely. Even if the sound effects weren’t there at all, one would still imagine the sound of running water. Their presence emphasizes the sound and its insular quality, though. I’m reminded of an earlier column, where we talked about the sound effects in Banana Fish. There, an image of a passing train automatically conjured the associated sounds, but the sound effects, through their domination of the page, took it to the next level by mirroring how the sound dominated the moment for the characters.

MELINDA: Here, the sound sort of cradles the moment, creating a sense of comfort and familiarity around something extremely vulnerable.

MICHELLE: Ooh, good verb. In both cases, the sound effects define the sound in some way, rather than simply reiterating that it’s there.

MELINDA: When I first started reading manga, I found sound effects distracting. I was so new to comics, I had a lot of trouble digesting all the visual information on the page, and sound effects just made that more difficult. Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate just how much they contribute to the atmosphere of a scene, and how powerful they can be in the right hands.

MICHELLE: It’s like this whole other tool in the mangaka’s kit, and one that we don’t automatically think about.

MELINDA: Well said!

MICHELLE: Which brings us back around to the inescapable truth that Kazuya Minekura is brilliant and everyone should read Wild Adapter.

MELINDA: Yes, they should!

For more reviews, roundtables, and essays on Wild Adapter, check out the complete MMF archive.

Let’s Get Visual: Mono no Aware

MICHELLE: It’s the last Saturday of the month, and that means it’s time for another Let’s Get Visual column! Joining me as always is Melinda Beasi, from Manga Bookshelf. This month, we’ve chosen images that convey the feeling of mono no aware, which Wikipedia defines as, “the awareness of impermanence, or the transience of things, and a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing.”

If I’m interpreting that definition correctly, there appears to be a subtle difference between mono no aware and outright nostalgia, where the former is more of-the-moment (Honey and Clover springs to mind here) while the latter would be something like the retrospective narration in Ai Yazawa’s NANA.

What’s your take on it, Melinda?

MELINDA: I actually feel rather unclear myself, so I’m hoping that between you and our generous readers I’ll gain a better understanding via this column. Though I’ve read the Wikipedia entry, along with several other web pages that attempt to explain the concept, I’m not entirely sure I understand the true essence of mono no aware. I’ll do my best, of course, to take a stab at it!

MICHELLE: As will I! And if we do get it wrong, generous readers, please go easy on us!

What images have you chosen to talk about? (Click images to enlarge.)

Blue, Pages 224-end (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

MELINDA: Well, since we do focus on visuals here, I chose a series of panels from the end of Kiriko Nananan’s bittersweet yuri romance, Blue, published in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. To a great extent, I think the entire manga exemplifies mono no aware, at least as I understand it at this time, as its primary romance seems obviously transient from the beginning. There’s never a sense that its protagonists, Kirishima and Endo, have a long-term future together, so the tone is wistful throughout. Every detail, down to the artist’s stark drawing style, suggests a gentle melancholy, even in the characters’ happiest moments.

As you can see, the story’s final pages are nearly text-free. After exchanging restrained parting words, Kirishima rides off to Tokyo in a train, leaving Endo on the platform, smiling sadly. As the train pulls away, Kirishima turns and leans against the door, finally letting her tears fall, unseen by Endo.

Not only do these panels express the sadness of an (apparently) inevitable parting, but they deliberately display this in the simplest, most beautiful way possible. Nananan’s barely toned artwork accents the slightest movement, giving enormous weight to a single teardrop—even to a single fold in Kirishima’s clothing. This sadness is elegant in every way, down to the strands of black hair tumbling over Kirishima’s fingers in the books’ final frame. It’s gorgeous, truly, and so simply bittersweet.

Though, as I’ve said, I’m not entirely sure I fully understand mono no aware, these panels perfectly illustrates what I think it might be. I hope someone will tell me if I’m wrong or right.

MICHELLE: I think you’ve got it right, because we can tell that Kirishima realizes that this is the last time she is going to see Endo. She still loves her, but their time together is over. It’s a very sad scene, but it’s also a beautiful scene, and because this heartbreaking moment is depicted with such care and such clarity, I think it qualifies as mono no aware.

MELINDA: I’m relieved to know that you think so!

So what have you chosen to share with us tonight?

Shugo Chara!, Volume 10, Pages 148-149 (Kodansha Comics)

MICHELLE: I’ve chosen a two-page spread from the tenth volume of Peach-Pit’s magical girl series, Shugo Chara!. The series has followed its protagonist, Amu Hinamori, since she was in the fourth grade, and now her final days of sixth grade are drawing nigh. She and her friends are responsible for planning the graduation ceremony and Amu has gone to check out the state of the auditorium.

When she gets there, Amu is stunned by the sight of a room full of empty chairs. It’s silent and still, and its emptiness is only emphasized by the barrel ceiling. The sight reminds her of the many things that have happened at school and with her new friends, times when this room was full of life, but there’s more to it than that. There is still one more occasion where they will all be together—graduation. Things are not quite over for them, this room will once more be peopled by those whom Amu cares about, but still, the knowledge that change is imminent makes Amu wistful somewhat in advance.

Maybe the difference between mono no aware and nostalgia can be summed up as “these days will never come again” versus “those were the days.”

MELINDA: What a perfect choice for illustrating that point! You’re absolutely right, the wistfulness here is for the present much more than it is for the past. She’s living in the very moment she mourns, struck by the warmth of the present and its imminent loss all at once. What a lovely example, Michelle!

MICHELLE: Thanks! This image was the inspiration for this column, actually. I’ve certainly read other series that employ mono no aware—I loved that aspect of Honey and Clover before I even knew that it had a specific name—but I was struck by how this one spread conveyed the same idea almost completely wordlessly. “Living in the very moment she mourns” is a beautiful way to put it.

MELINDA: So I suppose it’s up to our readers now to let us know how well we’ve done in our attempt to interpret mono no aware?

MICHELLE: Indeed! And if anyone has images they’d like to share, please feel free! Also, please come back and join us next month for a special Wild Adapter-themed edition of Let’s Get Visual to coincide with the Manga Moveable Feast being hosted at Manga Bookshelf the week of June 19th through 25th!

Cross Game Color Commentary

As part of this month’s Manga Moveable Feast on Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game, Kate Butler and I engaged in a bit of conversation about our love of sports manga in general and this series in particular. As we reference the plot and characters, this page from VIZ’s Shonen Sunday website might come in handy.

MICHELLE: I’m fighting the compulsion to start this thing off by going, “So. Cross Game, huh?” But perhaps I had better begin by introducing my fellow interlocutor, Kate Butler. Kate and I have been friends for about a decade now, and share a markedly similar taste in books, which extends to a love (somehow this word doesn’t seem quite strong enough) for sports manga. In fact, I am pretty sure that it was from Kate that I first heard about The Prince of Tennis and Hikaru no Go, both of which have been long-time favorites of mine.

What was your first exposure to sports manga, Kate?

KATE: The very first sports manga I read was the first couple of volumes of Harlem Beat. Was TOKYOPOP still calling itself Mixx back then? In any case, it was a long time ago, and I remember being surprised that this story about basketball, something which I find incredibly boring in real life, was holding my attention. But the real truth is that my love of sports manga comes about because of my strange attraction to shounen battle manga (and their insanely lengthy anime counterparts)—you really can’t describe The Prince of Tennis as anything else, even though they battle using tennis and not swords or super saiyan techniques.

But even though Cross Game shares a number of elements with that particular genre, I doubt anyone would peg it as a pure battle-sport manga.

MICHELLE: The closest I’ve come to a shounen battle manga that actually involves literal battles is probably Rurouni Kenshin, which I adore. I have yet to read any of the Dragonball series, but I suspect that I’d probably like it, too, since I enjoyed the pair of Toriyama one-shots I read.

You’ve touched upon one of the central mysteries of sports manga for me: how come I never want to watch live sports, but I gobble up the manga like candy? If forced to name a favorite sport, I would probably say basketball or tennis, which some might take as evidence for why I love Slam Dunk and The Prince of Tennis, but I can honestly say that I have never, at any point in my life, ever found baseball interesting. And yet I love Cross Game.

KATE: I wonder at my interest in sports-related manga as well. My adoration for The Prince of Tennis knows no bounds, and sometimes it even makes me think I must have been wrong—of course I must enjoy watching actual tennis! But then I try and am disappointed to discover once again that it’s as boring to me as it ever was.

Baseball is probably my most favorite of all the major league/professional sports popular in the U.S. But that’s not saying a whole lot—I always enjoyed my outings to Fenway Park with my dad, but much of my attention was focused on when I got to buy my next hot dog or ice cream.

I guess my next question would be, is Cross Game really about baseball? At least in the earliest volumes, while there’s plenty of baseball-related content, it’s not -about- baseball, at least not in the way The Prince of Tennis is about tennis.

MICHELLE: I think that’s an excellent question, and the key to its appeal. I’ve spoken on this theme several times in recent months, but I adore stories about lazy or disinterested characters who find something to be truly passionate about and/or a place where they belong. That’s why, of all the sports manga I’ve read, Cross Game reminds me the most of Slam Dunk. But even that is not really any comparison, since we learn much more about Ko and his motivations than we do about Sakuragi, and he certainly seems to be coming from a much deeper place than “get the girl” or “be the best.” The story becomes more about Ko and his personal journey rather than the actual specifics of his goal.

That isn’t to say, though, that the baseball games aren’t riveting and masterfully drawn, especially those between “the portables,” the lower-tier members of the baseball team, and the hand-picked varsity squad. Here again, I think Adachi’s stressing the importance of really loving something, no matter what it is, because simply doing that can bring one joy.

KATE: Yes, if I were going to try to identify Ko’s motivations, “be the best” and “get the girl” wouldn’t be among the first to spring to mind. Though it’s interesting that they wouldn’t, because we’re told early on in the manga that he’s actually far more competitive than he appears.

Your description of his journey from indifference to passion sounds a lot like Godai from Maison Ikkoku, though I personally am finding Ko much more difficult to get a handle on than Godai, whose faults and temptations and misunderstandings were all very much on display. Ko, on the other hand, feels slippery to me. Not to say he doesn’t have motivations and desires, but he’s very hard to read. It may have something to do with the way he’s drawn—I find his expression to be inscrutable most of the time, giving me little information about what’s passing in his mind.

Here are some examples of Ko’s expressions, captioned with the emotion he is experiencing at that moment:

Sly

About to Get Beat Up

Annoyed

Confused

Just Saw a Ghost

Puzzled

Shocked

Aaaand sly again

MICHELLE: That’s a good point, and especially true during the portions of the story where others are observing Ko and how much he’s grown. With the lack of facial cues, I pretty much just rely on his commitment to baseball as indication that he’s still doggedly on the path of making Wakaba’s dream come true.

Adachi’s art in general sends me mixed messages. In matters of pacing and paneling he excels, but his depiction of anatomy is more inconsistent. He seems to draw some bodies quite well. Ko’s when pitching, for example, and Aoba’s, especially on the chapter title pages on which she’s wearing revealing attire. I love how her body looks positively normal for a healthy, athletic teen, and don’t even mind that her clothes are a bit skimpy because they’re still practical and plausible. But then I look at her face, and it just seems incongruously cartoony compared to the rest of her. And then you’ve got the supporting characters like Nakanishi who—and I really appreciate that there are several awesome yet stocky characters in the cast—frequently looks too dumpy to even be able to run.

KATE: Well, maybe he can’t run very fast. Or more accurately, he’s not a distance runner. Baseball isn’t really a distance game, though: similar to American football, it’s mostly short bursts of high exertion followed by a bunch of standing around. Which is why your top soccer, basketball and marathoners tend to have a different body shape from football players and baseball sluggers. So I don’t particularly find the body shapes completely incongruous with high school baseball players.

The faces and the rest of the art—well, I’ll admit it, it took me quite a while before I was able to tell Aoba and Ko apart with any consistency. At first I found it annoying, but then I started to think it was probably on purpose that their character designs were so similar. They are meant to be two peas.

MICHELLE: I’m sure that’s intentional. She definitely looks different from Adachi’s other lead heroines, who tend to resemble the Wakaba type. And really, everything else—from the inscrutable hero, to the mild fanservice, to the dumpy bodies—is simply part of Adachi’s style. He’s remained quite consistent, as Joe McCulloch notes in his excellent post at the Panelists. It’s definitely an effective style for conveying this type of story.

KATE: Is that a Seishu uniform I see depicted on one of the panels from Nine? Interesting. I suppose given that so little of Adachi’s work has been translated into English, it’s not exactly unsurprising that I’m not intimately familiar with most of his series, but I do feel it’s a lack. The other series of his to which I’ve had the most exposure is Touch, and that just the anime. So while I can agree that the art is remarkably consistent, I can’t speak toward greater thematic consistency through his work.

On the other hand, Cross Game itself employs many plot elements to which I’m very partial. You said earlier that you enjoy stories where a less-than-inspired protagonist evolves into a passionate pursuer of something. I happen to adore stories where the arrogant and insufferable are brought up short by a plucky underdog. (That is, after all, one of the prime plot components of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite book of all time.) And in this first half of Cross Game we’ve already had a payoff on that particular plot thread.

MICHELLE: It is a Seishu uniform! I didn’t even notice that. And yes, I was only referring to artistic consistency because, sadly, like you, I haven’t enough experience with his long-form stories to know how the they compare. I’m hopeful that Cross Game will do well enough that VIZ will license more by Adachi. Alex Hoffman of Manga Widget recently speculated that Katsu! might be a contender, and I concur.

I’m with you regarding the payoff! Perhaps I should have expected that something like that would happen, but I still thought it was handled rather elegantly. In fact, one could probably predict several things about where the Cross Game story is going to go, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable.

KATE: Well, after that random Seishu uniform, I must say my interest in seeing Nine has shot up about tenfold. I do hope Cross Game is selling well enough to spur more Adachi licenses.

The way the payoff of that particular plot was handled was excellent—but the buildup to it was also interesting, especially since neither of our protaganists was actually the original instigator of the portable team’s secret plan. I do love it when characters presented initially as thuggish turn out instead to be quite clever and nice. (At least to those who deserve it.)

MICHELLE: Me, too. And I think I’d read an entire manga about Okubo, the cheerful yet underestimated manager of the portables. I think that in it, she should solve crime. Also, I think I now ship her with Nakanishi.

KATE: I would so read Okubo: Girl Detective. Someone needs to write this manga!

Ahem. Getting back to the actual discussion again: Cross Game is very enjoyable thus far, we both agree. But there are few stories I find so perfect there’s not at least one or two things I might change. Is there anything in particular you haven’t liked so far?

MICHELLE: Hmm. Well, I’m not crazy about all the fourth-wall breaking that’s going on. I expected it more in volumes two and three, and so it bothered me less, but Adachi complaining about his schedule or depicting the characters reading his earlier series is just never going to amuse me. There was a bit in volume three that I laughed at, though, where someone threw something at a box of omniscient narration.

I also think Aoba’s dad is really creepy. For Ko, a teenage boy, to be curious about girls and to go into a daze while looking up the skirt of the girl ahead of him on the escalator doesn’t bother me, but for a grown man to hang around a batting cage so that he might catch a glimpse of a young woman’s underpants is, like, a criminal offense or something. And that his daughters know about and freely discuss his proclivities is also pretty gross.

How about you?

KATE: I’m completely with you on both points. It may be possible to break the fourth-wall in a way that blends almost seamlessly into the story, and there are a couple of instances even within Cross Game where it works out all right, but most of the time it just serves to jar you right out of the story.

And I don’t even know where to begin with Mr. Tsukishima. The existence of numerous other lecherous father figures (Shigure from Fruits Basket springs to mind, along with Nanjiro Echizen from The Prince of Tennis) suggests he’s part of some grand tradition I just do not understand. We may have to wait for someone to make this a topic of their dissertation before all the cultural dots are connected.

MICHELLE: Maybe so. I mean, it must be funny to someone, right? Probably Japan is just more relaxed about that sort of thing than Americans—it is the land of used-undies vending machines, after all—but I’d think actually ogling a customer would cross some sort of line even there.

Now that I think about, there are loads of fellows in Cross Game who are unabashed about their girlie mags. Azuma’s brother, Junpei, has a pile in his delivery van when we first meet him. Ko’s got his own stash. His dad left one lying about at one point, too.

KATE: I can’t claim to be an expert, but anecdotally, that kind of soft-core porn seems much more out in the open. Salarymen reading it on trains, etc. So is it really meant to be funny? I guess the idea that it’s a joke is less depressing than the idea that it’s meant to be serious and no one cares.

MICHELLE: I don’t think the act of reading the magazines is really supposed to be funny, just a casual thing, but I bet that Mr. Tsukishima’s antics were intended to be. For the most part, I bet Adachi uses those magazines to show that these are just regular guys and, though they may be talented, or be able to summon great dedication for something that they love, in the end they all still get goofy for teh boobies.

KATE: That’s probably true. And in that sense, the T and A quotient of this series is really not any more than you’d find on your average American sitcom. Or maybe even in Archie comics, considering how that’s been going lately.

I think as long as these things remain in the background as the series progresses they’ll continue to be ignorable offenses for the most part. My larger concern going forward is, of course, the bane of authors everywhere: the conclusion. So many authors are so incredibly talented at the beginning parts of a story. Quite a few authors can sustain a story admirably through the middle portion. But then the endings! Oh, the weak, underwritten, cop-out finales. I’m both eager and afraid to see which side Cross Game falls out on.

MICHELLE: Oh, indeed. Like I mentioned before, certain aspects of the tale can be predicted, and that’s simply because of the kind of story it is. I mean, I suppose Adachi might never allow the Seishu team to make it to Koshien, but I’d consider it highly unlikely for a sports manga to go that route. I must admit, though, that I have heard that some of his endings are rather open-ended.

KATE: I think the baseball-related developments are probably set in stone—it would be unthinkable not to see them get to Koshien eventually, though whether or not he’ll take us through the entire tournament is less determined. But the character side of the equation is where the possibility of letdown really exists. So far things there have been developing at a nice pace, so hopefully the ending won’t disappoint.

MICHELLE: I guess we will just have to wait and see!

Thanks for joining me to talk about Cross Game!

KATE: Thanks! This was a lot of fun!

Breaking Down Banana Fish – The Final Installment

On one hand, it seems like ages ago that the Banana Fish project started at Manga Bookshelf. When I think of some of what happened in early volumes—the death of Ash’s friend, Skip, and the single kiss he shared with Eiji to pass him some information tucked into a pill—it seems like the distant past. And yet, I can’t quite believe that we’ve finally reached the end! I think I could’ve gone on reading this series for nineteen more volumes.

Volumes seventeen and eighteen are the very personification of action-packed, as Ash must face off against not only Papa Dino but also Colonel Foxx, the creepy and sadistic mercenary hired by Papa Dino to do his bidding. Scandals come to light and all the bad guys receive their just deserts. Beyond that, I offer no spoilers, other than to say I love the ending almost without reservation.

If you’re not afraid of spoilers, come check out the final installment of Breaking Down Banana Fish!

License Request: Crazy for You

I contributed a guest license request to David Welsh’s weekly feature at his blog, Manga Curmudgeon. My pick was Crazy for You, a six-volume shoujo series by Karuho Shiina, creator of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, a series which I adore.

I don’t expect to love Crazy for You to the same extent, but it certainly sounds interesting! Check out the post for more details. In the meantime, I’ve got the German editions (published by TOKYOPOP!) on their way here, and will be getting my Google Translate on something fierce.

Let’s Get Visual: Funny Pages

MICHELLE: The wait is over.. a new Let’s Get Visual is here! We examined intensely emotional moments in our last column, so this time we’re going in the opposite direction by highlighting pages that make us laugh.

I’ve got to say, finding a couple of pages that genuinely made me giggle was much harder than finding ones that made me sniffle. Did you have a similar experience?

MELINDA: Actually, no, I giggle pretty easily and at a wide variety of things. My real challenge was picking just one scene!

MICHELLE: I certainly smile at amusing things, but I guess my threshold for outright laughter is pretty high. I’d be a good contestant on Make Me Laugh!

Still, I was able to find a pair of pages that had just the right combination of silly, cute, and absurd to appeal to me. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Silver Diamond, Volume 1, Pages 106 and 110 (TOKYOPOP)

As the artist (Shiho Sugiura) herself points out, what we have here is essentially a cliché. The character from another world or another time comes to the present day and freaks out over things like television and cars. What makes this scene so great to me is the fact that the character doing the freaking out is Koh, an excitable talking snake (who, incidentally, is highly venomous).

Something about a slanty-eyed, fanged critter going, “Whoa, what’s that guy?!” makes me crack up every time. He thinks everything is a creature, including the stove, whom he unwisely challenges to a fight. In the second example, he’s about to attack the clock when he’s stopped by Chigusa, a human transplant from the other world, who is able to show wisdom only because he himself previously made the same mistakes.

It’s simple, to be sure, but it’s just so durn cute! When I first read it, it made me love and sympathize with Koh instantly.

MELINDA: I’m a fan of this series as well, and Koh is my favorite character, so I can definitely relate to your fondness for him here. I think part of what makes him work so well, is that Sugiura doesn’t try to give him human features (other than speech), so not only is it funny to see a snake making all these comments, it’s a little bit poignant too, the way Sugiura draws him, which makes the humor hit just that much harder. Super-cute animal designs are all well and good, but a more realistic character can be much more touching, just for being more real. And something you care about is a lot funnier than something you don’t, at least in my experience.

As I type this out, I realize that the humor I enjoy most always contains a bit of poignance as well. Is it just me?

MICHELLE: Oh, that’s a really good point! Perhaps it’s simultaneously funny and endearing because he continues to look like a snake throughout, and hasn’t been given any over-exaggerated, human-like expressions to convey his surprise. It makes it seem more like we really are seeing how a snake would genuinely try to process these things.

And no, it is certainly not just you. Plus, if you consider a person’s character when writing humor, that just gives you a whole other layer to play with. Some things are funny because of who said them, after all, and not merely what was said.

MELINDA: I think there’s really very little in our lives that we process with only one emotion, and humor and affection work really well together. Koh’s appearance as a regular snake helps make him look vulnerable simply by virtue of his size, despite the fact that he’s pretty fierce, which makes him even more endearing.

Sugiura also does a great job of creating a sort of whirlwind tour of the wondrous Earth “creatures” with a lot of slanted, non-standard panels, cramped pretty close together, which makes the whole thing read funnier.

MICHELLE: Indeed, I was remembering that How to Draw Shojo Manga advocated using diagonal panels to show that a character is off-balance in a particular situation, so it makes sense Sugiura would use them to convey the dizzying onslaught poor Koh is experiencing.

Shall we move on to your selection? It looks pretty poignant, too!

Yotsuba&!, Volume 6, Pages 78-79 (Yen Press)

MELINDA: It certainly is! So, I went very simple with this for a couple of reasons. First of all, the humor is entirely visual. In fact, it wouldn’t need to be in English for us to get the humor completely. I’d submit, too, that much of the humor, especially on the second page, relies on the story being displayed for us one panel at a time, so it could only exist in comics. The humor is in the still shots, snapped one-by-one, which slow the action to a crawl, without the tonal messiness of slow-motion.This effect can’t be achieved with the same kind of clarity in animation or live action.

Perhaps the bigger reason why I chose this, however, is that it relies on slapstick humor, which usually doesn’t work for me at all. I almost never laugh at scenes where the humor is based on someone slipping on a banana peel or a thousand other types of stumbles, pratfalls, and rake handles to the face that are essential to the genre. It leaves me completely cold. Yet here, as Yotsuba’s inattention to where she’s going sends her tumbling over a hill, I can’t help but laugh, both at her fall and at the older girls’ stunned reaction as they watch it happen. Somehow, that’s hilarious. And, just as with your selection, it’s hilarious because we care, or perhaps more to the point, the author cares. He loves Yotsuba as much as we do, so we’re all reacting together, unable to keep ourselves from laughing, but without any kind of cruel glee being taken in Yotsuba’s misfortune. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s significant.

MICHELLE: I react to slapstick the same way you do, but that tumble is so amusing, too, because Yotsuba was trying so hard. She really, really wanted the picture of her on the bike to be awesome, but because she was thinking more about that than actually riding, this happens.

It’s humor that relies entirely on human nature. The part the makes me laugh most is her wide-eyed, extreme close-up eagerness on that first page, because who hasn’t known a kid who was totally excited to not only be photographed but to show off a new skill?

In fact, the more times I read this over, the more I giggle at it. That’s really unusual!

MELINDA: You know, I think in some ways, the simpler the humor, the more durable it is. The less we have to think about it for it to be funny, the more it’s likely to trigger the reaction again on repeated viewings. Kiyohiko Azuma draws this kind of humor brilliantly, and by keeping the storytelling nearly as simple as Yotsuba’s own thought processes, he ensures its enduring success.

MICHELLE: I think you’re right about the correlation of simplicity and durability. After all, isn’t that also the general rule with fashion? Some classics just don’t go out of style! I’d actually call Azuma a master at this type of storytelling; it’s impressive how he is always able to make Yotsuba’s thought processes abundantly clear, without need of explanatory dialogue or narration.

Here’s another good example, this one from volume three. It’s not as giggle-inducing, but we can still tell that Yotsuba is shyly expecting something and is crestfallen when she doesn’t receive it. We don’t even need to know that she’s hoping for a souvenir.

MELINDA: Oh, that’s a great example! You’ve got me wanting to reread the series again now, just so I can experience all these fantastic moments all over again!

MICHELLE: Me too! It strikes me that another series I thought about sampling for this column, Neko Ramen (TOKYOPOP), also draws on simplicity and a sort of universal understanding of behavior (albeit feline) for its humor. There are a lot of panels that make me giggle just because they’re so absurd yet true, like one in which a cat is considered for the job of cashier until it reveals that it only wants to roll around on the register.

MELINDA: Adding that layer of absurdity is usually what makes humor work the best for me, actually, which is why it’s surprising just how deftly Azuma manages to hook me every time!

MICHELLE: Same here!

You know, I feel like we have come back around to the same conclusion we sort of reach every time: manga is awesome!

MELINDA: That it is. 🙂

Please Save My Earth at The Hooded Utilitarian

For our second joint venture at The Hooded Utilitarian, Melinda Beasi and I take a look at the sci-fi shoujo classic, Please Save My Earth.

Summarizing a series this long is a daunting undertaking, but Melinda does an admirable job:

Please Save My Earth is a 21-volume soft sci-fi epic about seven Japanese children (six teenagers and one elementary school student) who discover that they are the reincarnations of a group of alien scientists who once studied the Earth from a remote base on the Moon. Their discovery is made through a series of shared dreams, in which the children re-experience their past lives, including the destruction of their home planet and their eventual deaths from an unknown illness that spread rapidly through the group during their final days. Now reborn on earth, the children seek each other out, burdened with unfinished business from their past lives while simultaneously struggling with the present.”

To check out the rest of our conversation, which touches upon the series’ themes, characters, humor, and artwork, please visit The Hooded Utilitarian.

Breaking Down Banana Fish 14-16

The seventh installment of the Breaking Down Banana Fish roundtable has been posted at Manga Bookshelf, featuring disussion of volumes fourteen through sixteen of the series.

There is a ton of action in these three volumes, as Ash’s friends rescue him from Papa Dino and must then contend with retribution both from the Chinese forces of Yut-Lung and a band of mercenaries hired by Papa Dino. A plethora of gunfighting and tactical maneuvering ensues, and it’s all very exciting. Beyond that, it also challenges conventional ideas of what shoujo manga is. As a downside, though, there’s very little time for interaction between Ash and Eiji.

Still, I am enjoying this series very much. I can hardly believe there are only three more volumes (and one more roundtable) left to go!

A Further Dose of Squee

Today, I joined the crew from Manga Bookshelf in discussing yesterday’s world-shaking (GET IT? I MADE A SAILOR MOON JOKE!) news that the Sailor Moon manga will return to print in September of this year.

Join us as we discuss the appeal of Sailor Moon, its gender politics, its relation to other “magical girl” series, its sales potential, the skimpy outfits, and more!

And if you’d simply like a better look at the sexay Sailor Starlights, click here for a larger version.

NANA Project #9

Melinda Beasi, Danielle Leigh, and I have completed our penultimate (for now!) edition of the NANA Project over at Comics Should Be Good. You can find that post here.

Volumes seventeen and eighteen are full of drama, most notably when a tabloid prints a story about Nana’s long-lost mother and when Shin, lost after the end of his relationship with Reira, makes a real mess of things and derails Blast’s first big tour. Nana accepts the agency’s suggestion to go solo, pledging to bring in even more fans so that Blast won’t go bust, but even as she embarks on this path, buoyed by dreams, it’s becoming clear that whatever happens to send her running away to England will be happening very soon.

And yet, I didn’t find these volumes as depressing as I have others in the series. I suspect this is because Hachi is by Nana’s side. She attempts to prevent the publication of the story about Nana’s mother, and when she fails, rushes to Nana’s place and stays with her over the New Year’s holiday. The relatively new character of Miu, Yasu’s new girlfriend, also grew on me in these volumes with her ability to see the truth about people. She instantly, for example, realizes that it’s Hachi who’s really the strong one.

In the future (or present) timeline, Hachi receives a mysterious package with clues to Nana’s whereabouts. It seems Hachi’s faith in her is the only thing keeping Nana alive, and that she needs to be found, pronto. The series goes on hiatus after volume 21, so I’m hoping that happens within the next three volumes!

Review copy for volume seventeen provided by the publisher.