Yumi Tamura: Two Artbooks

For this month’s MMF, I wanted to review something a little different—two new artbooks by Yumi Tamura. While they’re not available in English, they are fairly easy to find, and Tamura’s beautiful art doesn’t need to be read to be enjoyed.

Edge of Emotions front cover

Edge of Emotions front cover

Natsu, a high school girl who is so shy that her only friend is her cat, sits down to a meal with her family and, oddly enough, it’s every one of her favorite foods. When she wakes up, she’s on a small boat, in the middle of the sea with six other teenagers and an adult. The adult later reveals to the group that they weren’t kidnapped or the victims of some accident—they are some of the few survivors from a catastrophe that has devastated the world and Japan. The leaders of Japan, knowing this was coming, devised a project where five groups of specially chosen young people would be cryogenically frozen, only to awake when the world was stable enough again for human life. 7SEEDS is the story of Natsu and Team Summer B, but also the others that have awoken in a terrible world. There are also glimpses of humanity’s last days in a survival shelter, and the brutal, stark story of how Team Summer A came to be. While there’s only a handful of people left, the story still has an epic scope as they try to build their lives among the ruins.

7SEEDS is one of the best series being published in Japan right now, running in Shogakukan’s FLOWERS magazine, which runs other older-skewing shojo series like Kaze Hikaru. While it would fit in with current trends in YA publishing (dystopias ahoy!), the fact that it is currently in volume 24 goes against the current realities of the manga market.

Edge of Emotions dustjacket reverse - there are more people on the flaps!

Edge of Emotions dustjacket reverse – there are more people on the flaps!

This is a problem for the manga reader who doesn’t read Japanese. 7SEEDS had ten volumes published in France, which is somewhat readable if you still have a decent memory of high school French. Sadly, though, for unknown reasons the publisher no longer has the license (cancellations are rare in the French market) and the volumes are out of print, which makes them difficult and expensive to import.

One way to enjoy titles that you can’t read is to enjoy the art. Artbooks have long been available in the US market through various importers, and the books for the bigger titles can be had (for an inflated price, of course) at your favorite local anime convention. So, having a bit of an artbook addiction, when I saw two new releases from Yumi Tamura, one for 7SEEDS and the other focusing on her whole body of work, I had to have them!

Edge of Emotions - Natsu and Hana

Edge of Emotions – Natsu and Hana

7SEEDS: Edge of Emotions was released in 2012 and is more of a guide/character book than a straight-up artbook, so there is a significant amount of text. However, this is a very attractive presentation—the back of the dustjacket is a poster with many of the main characters, and the book opens with a poster in the front—one side is Natsu, the other side is a rundown of all of the “seeds” and their adult guides, included the deceased ones. Then there’s multiple pages of beautiful color artwork from the series—mostly from cover/splash pages—and also from furoku items. The paper is good quality but not glossy, like you’d see in regular artbooks.

Edge of Emotions - Aramaki <3

Edge of Emotions – Aramaki <3

Being a character guide, the focus is on providing profiles of the 35 “seeds” and the guides, along with the handful of other pre-disaster characters. For a handful of characters who didn’t make it long, there’s more about them here than was ever in the series itself. There is also an extensive interview with Tamura-sensei at the end. One of the most interesting parts is an extra manga at the end, which is a short story of how many of the characters’ paths were crossing before the disaster, but they didn’t even know it.

Edge of Emotions - Profile page for Hana

Edge of Emotions – Profile page for Hana

The other book is one of a series of special releases for Shogakukan’s 90th anniversary, titled Flowers Comics Masterpieces, featuring “five comics legends”: Taeko Watanabe (Kaze Hikaru), Chie Shinoara (Red River), Moto Hagio (Heart of Thomas, They Were 11), Akimi Yoshida (Banana Fish) and Yumi Tamura.

Heat of Life - slipcase box and book presentation

Heat of Life – slipcase box and book presentation

生命の熱量 , or roughly, Heat of Life, is firstly a beautiful presentation. The hardcover and bonus book (more on that later!) are in a very nice, heavy-duty carboard slipcase. The slipcase is embossed with gold foil and it’s really well made. The hardcover book runs over 400 pages, consisting primarily of one-shots. Perhaps some of these are the titles she kept mentioning in her Basara notes! Most stories open with a color page as well. There’s also a selection of colored work from titles that -aren’t- 7SEEDS or Basara—but there is stuff that a Western fan would recognize, like Chicago. It’s all on high-quality paper so the illustrations are reproduced beautifully.

Heat of Life - poster from the reverse side of the Basara/7SEEDS book dustjacket

Heat of Life – poster from the reverse side of the Basara/7SEEDS book dustjacket

What will be of most interest to fans would be the second book—a smaller, thin paperback. It has the same nice paper, and the dustjacket reverses and folds out into a Basara poster. Not having those artbooks I can’t immediately tell if it is new art or not. Half of the book is about Basara, and it’s basically an illustrated summary of the story. The second half is for 7SEEDS, and provides some information on post-disaster Japan, since a lot of the character information was already covered in Edge of Emotion. Both halves have fantastic artwork, and there is some overlap on the 7SEEDS artwork.

Heat of Life - Beautiful art from the Basara book

Heat of Life – Beautiful art from the Basara book

If you have to get just one, Heat of Life is a much more comprehensive take on Tamura’s 30-year career, but it is a special edition, and priced like one. Edge of Emotions is a third of the price but entirely focused on 7SEEDS. Although, if you want to know more about it while you pen letters/prepare bribes for the folks at VIZ, it’s a great resource. Either way, you’re supporting Yumi Tamura!

Heat of Life - Interior art from the main book for one of the one-shot stories

Heat of Life – Interior art from the main book for one of the one-shot stories

So now that I have you wanting these, yes? :) Here are my sources:

-Kinokuniya online, or, if you’re lucky and live near one, at one of their stores. To order online, it’s best to use ISBNs unless you can input Japanese text. Reasonable shipping costs.

-YesAsia online – again, having the ISBNs is a plus. They convert the titles into English text but the romanization leaves a lot to be desired. On YesAsia, also always be careful that you’re buying the Japanese editions—they also sell Chinese-language editions as well. They offer free shipping if you order over a certain amount but it’s rather slow.

Heat of Life - Interior art from Chicago

Heat of Life – Interior art from Chicago

-Amazon Japan – the biggest and best source, but you’ll be paying for overseas shipping. Still, investigate and compare—YesAsia and Kinokuniya’s pricing may still reflect when the dollar was stronger against the yen, so even with shipping it may not be a terrible deal since through Amazon you will get current rates. Amazon will also convert your payment themselves, so you don’t get hit with a foreign currency charge if you pay by credit card.

-eBay – There’s usually a significant markup by the majority of the “anime” sellers, so I prefer to use eBay for out-of-print titles that I can’t find elsewhere; Amazon Japan does have a marketplace comparable to the US site but few if any sellers will ship internationally. You can get lucky, sometimes, when someone is downsizing a collection and find a fair deal.

Heat of Life - Last page!  A little Tam-Tam Time and a little Shinbashi

Heat of Life – Last page! A little Tam-Tam Time and a little Shinbashi

7SEEDS: Edge of Emotions (7SEEDS 公式ファンブック) ISBN 978-4091342577, 980 JPY

Yumi Tamura: Heat of Life (田村由美-生命の熱量) ISBN 978-4091791436 2,730 JPY

Chatting About Canon

The following discussion contains spoilers.

MICHELLE: As we did for the CLAMP Manga Moveable Feast, special guest Karen Peck and I decided to collaborate on a contribution. This month’s MMF theme is vampires, so we opted (actually, this was totally Karen’s brainwave) to talk about Canon, the four-volume Chika Shiomi shoujo series published by CMX. I really didn’t know what to expect, having never read it before, but I think you had, right, Karen?

KAREN: I read it years ago, as I am a total Chika Shiomi fangirl, and figured the MMF would be a great excuse to talk about a lesser-known CMX series. A little background on Chika Shiomi and the series—Canon was her first series after her 1993 debut, running in Mystery Bonita Special. She’s one of those mangaka who’s had her work released by several English-language publishers—Night of the Beasts by Go!Comi, one volume of Queen of Ragtonia by Aurora, and Viz has most recently released Yurara and its sequel series Rasetsu. Her current work is Yukarism, a time-travel tale running in Bessatsu Hama to Yume, which is currently on hiatus.

Canon Himuro, ill with an incurable disease, was the sole survivor of a massacre that left her classmates dead. Months later a reporter runs into her, and she looks healthier than before—and carries a secret. Her classmates were attacked by a vampire, who then turned Canon into one. Horrified and wracked by guilt, she declares revenge on the vampire with silver hair and blue eyes. Holding onto her humanity, Canon refuses to drink blood, and wears a cross necklace given to her by a kindly foreigner, as explained in the second chapter. She is also accompanied by a vampire crow, Fui, who helps keep the story going and provides the humor. Canon is out for vengeance; Fui would just like a snack.

So, Michelle, what did you think of the series? Beyond the ’90s fashion, that is?

MICHELLE: I shall tell you, though we really must get back around to the fashion topic!

I ended up enjoying Canon quite a lot, though moreso in the first two volumes. The story begins episodically, and after a first volume that I’d describe as “not riveting, but entertaining,” the second volume packs a real wallop as Rod (such an intimidating name!)—the silver-haired, blue-eyed vampire—makes his entrance. By this point, Canon has met Sakaki, a smug and violent half-breed who’s also out for revenge against Rod (who murdered his parents), and they’ve formed an alliance. Fairly soon, though, Rod’s servants are telling Canon that their master lives as a hermit and couldn’t possibly be responsible for the attack upon her classmates, and suggesting that the real culprit is Sakaki. Canon resists the truth until Fui overhears a conversation confirming it (and is gravely wounded by Sakaki as a result).

I probably should’ve seen this reveal coming, but I was sort of enjoying the series in an uncomplicated way and wasn’t expecting it to veer into territory this dark. Ultimately, you’ve got Canon unable to forgive Sakaki, Sakaki unable to forgive Rod, and some uncomfortable parallels for Canon to navigate as her own hatred (fueled by the humiliation of having been tricked) threatens to undo her efforts to retain her human heart. It’s good stuff, really!

That said, I thought the entrance of Glenn as a common enemy kind of squandered the momentum a little. I mean, I’m glad that Rod and his awesome servant, Machua, got to become good guys, but Glenn lacks any real depth as a character, and I found his sudden change of heart regarding Canon—he’d previously been adamant about the need to exterminate her—rather baffling.

KAREN: The names crack me up, too. “Rod” just doesn’t sound… menacing. Rod and Glenn sound like they’d be assistant managers at an Office Depot, not powerful vampires.

It is good stuff! One thing I dislike about vampire stories—in manga and in print—is the angsty, boohoo I’m a vampire aspect. Canon does not wallow in that too much, the action is swirling around her and she’s a part of it all—she’s not a passive character. I think the shortness of this series helped as well; she had to stick to the unexpectedly twisty story–everyone has a motive, and they’re bound by vampire laws and revenge. Except Glenn. I agree with you, Michelle, that his change of heart is baffling–he’s the person that exists to move the story in one direction yet doesn’t seem to be upset that his purpose in the story is nullified by that direction. It’s a bit sloppy, but given how well she plotted out everything else, I’ll give Shiomi-sensei a pass since this is her first work.

As for the Canon/Sakaki relationship, at first I didn’t get it. After some consideration, though, it does fit in with what Canon was trying to get through to Sakaki and Rod–to stop the cycle of vengeance, that everyone can move on. Yes, Sakaki created Canon and messed with her memories to create a weapon to get at Rod in an exquisitely personal way, but her own words apply just as much to herself. She could kill him for her own vendetta, or she could remember that little boy who was left bleeding next to the corpses of his parents and understand what drove him. There’s a theme of forgiveness and breaking cycles here that I think is (mostly) well-done.

So, back to the fashion. Canon’s ankle boots have actually come back around to being fashionable again, but I fear that Rod’s overcoat on top of a turtleneck overcoat look will never be repeated. I suppose hermit vampires who feel bad about killing their best friends are just naturally chilly?

MICHELLE: I hadn’t actually seen that about Rod’s garb until you pointed it out, but once I did, I couldn’t stop noticing it. I think I thought the black one was a cloak at first, but upon closer inspection, it clearly has sleeves.

You’re absolutely spot-on about Canon remembering the terrible things that had happened to Sakaki that caused him to inflict terrible things upon her. And though it might feel like a betrayal of her classmates, she can’t stop loving him. This reminded me a lot of Shuri and Sarasa in Basara, actually, where she is able to forgive him for the atrocities committed as the Red King, even though other villagers will never be able to. And, of course, any time something can be compared to Basara is a good sign!

Speaking of comparisons to other works, the side story in volume four about the other half-breed who briefly takes care of orphaned Sakaki reminded me a lot of Shion’s backstory in Please Save My Earth, as another example of a boy in such tremendous need who tragically loses yet another person who could’ve shown him love. And Sakaki’s physical appearance reminds me some of Tokyo Babylon‘s Seishirou, especially round about the shoulder region.

Actually, Sakaki’s got some fashion challenges of his own to surmount. In this picture, his coat’s billowing so much it looks like a frickin’ hoop skirt!

KAREN: I know–why does he need two coats? I think it’s a little hypocritical of a vampire to wear turtlenecks anyway.

Now you’re reminding me that I need to finish reading Basara! But it’s a good comparison, and one that reflects favorably on Chika Shiomi–I think a lot of people can write a love story, but it’s harder to write one where it makes sense and is right for the characters. Hand-waving with a “that’s how love is!” is lazy, and she doesn’t take the easy way out. The ending offers a further complication, but again, it goes with the feeling that the characters really need to want this instead of just engaging in relationship fanservice.

The art—especially for Sakaki—really had a CLAMP-circa-X vibe going on, but this was 1994. I also enjoyed Machua’s style, even if it wasn’t as flamboyant and flowing.

MICHELLE: I liked her, too, though at first I thought she might be a dude!

The art really is frequently lovely in that early-’90s kind of way. Below I’ve included an image of one of my favorite two-page spreads, where you’ve got all sorts of overlapping panels, huge flowers, leads superimposed over a background of space… My cynical side wonders if Shiomi had a checklist of specific items to include, but the overall effect is still one I enjoy. And, of course, I can’t help thinking that Melinda Beasi, with her well-documented love for old-school shoujo art, would just love this to pieces. (Click image to enlarge.)

KAREN: This is some lovely ’90s art, and it holds up pretty well—Canon herself (sans ankleboots) could just as easily be a design in a modern Chika Shiomi work. I also enjoyed her eye for action–I was a little unsure about how the vampires were always leaping about, but I assume it’s a case of Our Vampires Are Different. The pages you picked show how nice a page with flashbacks and conversations can be–it’s not just good storytelling, it also sets an emotional mood that really sells the scene for me.

I’m glad there was a Vampire MMF to make me get this series off the shelf and re-read it. It’s one of those quiet CMX series that came and went with little fanfare, but shows how well-curated their shoujo line was–I’m sure they could have found a more sensationalistic vampire manga with prettier, broodier boys, but this is one with an overall strong story and a tough heroine. It may not be a classic on the lines of contemporary works like X, but it’s cheap on the used market and, in my opinion, a good short series.

MICHELLE: I definitely agree! Thank you for suggesting it!

And now, an announcement: because Karen and I had such a good time reading Canon, it really fanned the flames of “Damn, we miss CMX.” And so, to help offset our still-lingering pain, we’ve decided to embark upon a monthly feature called The CMX Project, where we will revisit both the lauded and the lesser-known works from the CMX catalog. Look for the first column—featuring Land of the Blindfolded—in January 2013!

Chatting About CLAMP

The following discussion contains spoilers.

MICHELLE: For this month’s CLAMP Manga Moveable Feast, special guest Karen Peck and I decided to weigh in on couple of the quartet’s shorter works, namely Suki (complete in three volumes) and Legal Drug (unfinished in three volumes, but newly relaunched in Japan under the name Drug & Drop). I’d heard these series were related in some way, too, though that turned out to be little more than a cameo.

Anyway, let’s start with Suki! Child-like Hinata Asahi is a first year in high school who is extremely book smart, but trusting to an excessive degree. She lives alone with two teddy bears, and when the guy who moves in next door turns out to be her substitute homeroom teacher, Hinata takes a liking to him. Shiro Asou is kind of prickly, but does a few things for Hinata that make her feel all warm and fuzzy, like patting her on the head and helping her sweep some leaves in her yard. Hinata’s obvious affection for Asou-sensei troubles her friend, Touko, and it’s Touko’s concern (coupled with hinting about Hinata’s past) that lends a welcome ominous vibe to the story.

KAREN: Ah, Suki! I read this when it first came out, and thought it was a nice little trifle—enjoyable but not especially notable. Hinata is one of those CLAMP heroines who is impossibly sweet and naïve, but it’s forgivable—because she should be a darker, sadder character, what with living alone in an empty house, her father only a distant figure, and having been through some intense events in her past. In Cardcaptor Sakura, you could see where all of [Sakura’s] abundant sweetness comes from—she comes from a world of love and security. That Hinata is still such an innocent, despite her situation, is very interesting.

It’s that ominous vibe you noted, Michelle, that does make this story a little more interesting—I think three volumes of Hinata and teddy bears would have been adorable, but pure fluff. Reading through the series, I also like the ambiguity of Asou-sensei—despite HInata’s affection for him, the story really feels like it’s building him to be another bad thing in Hinata’s life.

MICHELLE: HInata actually reminded me quite a lot of Sakuya from Natsuki Takaya’s Twinkle Stars, both in her demeanor and with the family secrets lurking in the background. (I think the similarity also sprung to mind because it was another case where I was used to reading a creator’s fantasy-infused manga but was now reading something taking place firmly in the real world.) But yes, one has to wonder how she was able to maintain her trusting spirit despite, we later learn, having been kidnapped nine times as a child.

I definitely enjoyed the build suggesting Asou-sensei was going to do something nefarious, and I admit to being disappointed that he merely turned out to be a bodyguard sent by Hinata’s father. The whole setup—lonely, selfless teen falls in love with enigmatic older guy—reminded me a little of Tokyo Babylon, but in the end CLAMP follows a more stereotypically shoujo storyline by offering redemption and a happy ending. It felt like all of the wonderful worrying Touko got up to just kind of petered out into very little payoff.

KAREN: Maybe Hinata maintains her child-like spirit by reading cute books about teddy bears? The book-within-the-book, another Suki, is precious.

I didn’t mind the payoff/ending. Terrible things happened to Hinata—and I’m sure that this kidnapping was a good deal more personal than past ones—but she remains unchanged. Hinata is still the same trusting person she always was, as was foreshadowed in a conversation with Asou-sensei—after he warned her that she would be sorry for living in her dream world, she replied, “No, I won’t. The people around me are all people I love. None of them are bad people. Not now, not ever.” And this plays out in the end—not only does she forgive her kidnappers, she convinces her father to help them. While a dark ending would have been more interesting, this story, for all the hints otherwise, was always going to be sweet. Like in CCS, a kind-hearted girl is tested but not broken, and continues on to share her loving nature with those around her.

MICHELLE: Yeah, you’re totally right. And I guess they can’t all be shocking endings, otherwise they would cease to be shocking!

I did like the book-within-a-book segments, something that we also see a little later in Chobits. If it didn’t involve a lot of physical labor to unearth my copies, I could check to see if the author of those picture books was the same Tomo! But I am lazy.

KAREN: I’ve not even read Chobits, so I’m no help whatsoever!

So my old assessment—that it’s a nice little story, prettily told—remains true for me after this re-reading. Not one of the great classics of CLAMP’s, but enjoyable all the same.

MICHELLE: I can agree with that!

Moving on to Legal Drug… as mentioned in Friday’s Let’s Get Visual post, this is a series that gets compared a lot to xxxHOLiC. Seventeen-year-old Kazahaya Kudo has run away from home and been rescued by Rikuo Himura. Both of the boys are live-in workers at Green Drugstore, managed by the enigmatic Kakei, and also take on the occasional odd job for their employer, which typically involve using Kazahaya’s ability to see visions when he touches people and objects to find various items.

Kazahaya and Rikuo aren’t friends, and fall into the spazzy/stoic dynamic characteristic of the early Watanuki/Doumeki relationship. There seems to be more overt romantic chemistry between them, however, which CLAMP plays up in the third volume, which finds them going undercover at an all-boys’ school.

KAREN: First, on a totally shallow level, I love Tokyopop’s presentation for Legal Drug. Vellum! Color pages! I’m totally a sucker for things like that.

I get the xxxHOLiC comparison; it’s one I’ve used before to describe it. However, Kakei isn’t quite Yuuko, luckily for Kazahaya and Rikuo!

My enjoyment of this series has always been tempered by its unfinished status—I really was wanting more details about the boys’ past which had been teased throughout the entire series. But what did you think of the stories—the “jobs,” Michelle? I think that they tended to be more personal than the stories in xxxHOLiC, which made them a little more central to the story.

MICHELLE: I think that if I had read this previously—before the resumption of the series in Japan—I would’ve been extremely frustrated by the lack of follow-through with the hints and glimpses we get of Kazahaya’s twin sister, Kei, and the mysterious woman in Rikuo’s past, Tsukiko. Now, I can feel more confident that CLAMP will address those story elements, even though there’s no guarantee we’ll ever see Drug & Drop in English.

As for the jobs, it’s been so long since I last read xxxHOLiC that I can’t really compare them, but I do agree about them seeming very central to the story. What first comes to mind is the cat that the boys rescue, who initially seems ordinary, then is revealed to be something supernatural, and then thanks its rescuers by showing them images of Kei and Tsukiko. That’s a perfect example of what you’re talking about, I think.

KAREN: Drug & Drop is now being published in a seinen magazine, so if we ever get to see it here, it will be interesting to see how it changed—will Kazahaya be in a dress as often?

Going back to our first title, there is a cameo by Hinata and Asou-sensei from Suki in volume two (chapter nine) which only shows that sometime after the events of that series, Hinata is still the same girl—who would think that there’s nothing odd about a strange boy asking for her school uniform, and who is able to draw others out. It’s a nice callback for a cameo.

Because the jobs tend to be about objects rather than people, the stories don’t have the larger emotional punch that some of the xxxHOLiC ones do, but that does allow Kazahaya and Rikuo to have more of the focus. I also liked how most of volume three was about one job—and that gave the story of the school and Nayuki room to breathe. It was a little dark at times, and maybe rambling, but it worked…

MICHELLE: I liked that about it, too, though I admit being a little annoyed at how much flailing about Kazahaya seemed to do during that story. It almost seems like the manga takes a sharp turn into generic BL, with the sudden schoolboy dynamic, Rikuo doing a little too well with his pushy seme impersonation, and the random school traditions of voting for a pretty boy to be a “bride” who wears the costume of his fans’ choice, but there were some nice ominous turns to keep it from worrying me too much. I am fairly certain the seinen Drug & Drop will definitely have less of that, though.

KAREN: There was a lot of flailing through the entire series, and I agree with you that it could be annoying. I get it, there’s tension/chemistry. But I like Kazahaya and Rikuo, and Rikuo is never creepy in his pushy seme moments, so I don’t mind it overall. But I don’t like being teased—I hope that running in a seinen mag, the new series can build their relationship with less blushing into something more concrete to where we see some solid character development.

Post-xxxHOLiC, I like Legal Drug less than I remember. Hopefully whatever CLAMP has in store with the characters in Drug & Drop will provide some satisfaction. As Kakei said in the last chapter of volume three, “We’ve been waiting a long time… for that boy and Rikuo to meet,” so hopefully we’ll see where this is all supposed to go.

MICHELLE: Well put! We share the same hopes for this series, it sounds like.

Thank you for joining me in this conversation today!

KAREN: And thank you for the opportunity!

Let’s Get Visual: A Tale of Two Series

MICHELLE: You didn’t think we were going to let a CLAMP MMF go by without devoting a special Let’s Get Visual column to it, did you? (Insert a Hokuto Sumeragi “ho ho ho” laugh here.) It’s an absolute must for a group like CLAMP, whose output is so diverse, not merely in the realms of story and demographic, but also artistically speaking. In fact, I had a pretty tough time choosing which images to talk about today. How about you, Melinda?

MELINDA: Yes, there’s so much to choose from! Though CLAMP is nearly always clearly distinguishable as CLAMP, they manage to do that while also significantly varying their style from series to series, especially when they’re writing for different demographics.

MICHELLE: I wish I had the artistic vocabulary to really thoroughly describe these subtle variations, but I’m afraid I don’t. Still, this diversity inspired Melinda and I to compare two CLAMP series with different art, but similar stories. Legal Drug has been described as a prototype for xxxHOLiC, as it features a hyper protagonist (Kazahaya) and his more stoic companion (Rikuo) who are asked to perform various odd, supernatural-related jobs by the precognitive manager of a store (Kakei). Kazahaya is quick to proclaim that they’re not friends, but is forced to begrudgingly thank Rikuo for several timely rescues. This is a setup very similar to the initial relationship between Watanuki and Doumeki in xxxHOLiC.

MELINDA: Personally, I think you could even make an argument for Kakei’s companion Saiga as a weird prototype for Mokona.

MICHELLE: Yeah, I guess he does spend the majority of his time either sleeping or pulling off surprising domestic tasks.

Anyway, how about you start us off with the pages you’ve chosen?

MELINDA: Sure! I’ve picked out a couple of different scenes from volume twelve, and the reason I chose that volume is that it’s really where Watanuki’s reality starts to fall apart. At first, he’s simply having a series of strange dreams, but by the end of the volume, dreams and reality are melding into each other, one after the other, to the point where it’s impossible for him to tell the difference between them.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

xxxHOLiC, Vol. 12, Pages 30-32 (Del Rey)

The first scene I’ve chosen comes in early in the volume, and it’s very obviously a dream world. The ever-present blossoms in the wind, Yuuko’s train of butterflies, the wind in the air, and even just the sense of space feels entirely like a dream–like something clearly outside our waking reality. It’s beautiful, but it’s expected, and even when there’s a sense of eeriness, it feels friendly and familiar.

xxxHOLiC, Vol. 12, Pages 138-141 (Del Rey)

The second scene, on the other hand, comes in much later, when Watanuki is being shuttled from dream to dream to dream, never knowing if he might finally be awake. The scene starts out simply with the kind of lunch picnic he might have with Himawari any day of the week. The backgrounds are sparse and the panels sort of matter-of-fact. The only hint at first that something might be off, is the hole Watanuki notices in the wall behind Himawari. And even though the scene becomes comedic, with the scaly hand popping out of the hole to steal Watanuki’s sherbet, it feels very sinister to me–not just because Himawari never notices what’s happening, but because it’s intruding on what feels to Watanuki like normal life, letting him know that he’s somehow *still* not awake. Unlike the earlier dream scene, which feels so perfectly dreamlike, this one reads as something more like madness, which is much scarier to me as a reader.

MICHELLE: My first reaction when I saw the scaly hand stealing the sherbet was to deem it “cute” but that’s because it’s been so long since I read xxxHOLiC that I had utterly forgotten the context of this scene. Now that you’ve informed me, I read it as sinister. It’s definitely something that could look like “Watanuki’s everyday life” to the casual reader as much as to Watanuki himself, at first.

MELINDA: I probably am letting the context influence me, which maybe makes this not the greatest example for a Let’s Get Visual column! But I do think it’s interesting how differently CLAMP treats these two scenes, when they’re both representations of Watanuki’s dream world.

MICHELLE: Oh, I think they’re fine examples! What you’re basically showing here is that in xxxHOLiC, or at least in these scenes, CLAMP draws the supernatural in a way that blends in with the everyday world. It’s a very simple approach, free of some of the bells and whistles that my images from Legal Drug possess.

MELINDA: Well, let’s take a look at those, then!

Legal Drug, Vol. 2, Pages 40-43 (TOKYOPOP)

MICHELLE: These pages are from a scene in the second volume of Legal Drug. Kazahaya and Rikuo have just rescued a magical kitty, and in gratitude, the kitty has led them to the park where its powers are strongest and transformed into the images of the person each boy wants to see most.

What struck me strongly here is the way the kitty begins to unravel. Seriously, the fact that it’s just one little toe of his little paw really gets to me somehow. Somewhat like xxxHOLiC, there’s that feeling of “You thought things were normal, but really they are not.” As the transformation is underway, we get several reaction shots from the boys (with a bevy of speedlines), resulting in a page layout far busier than xxxHOLiC. The two-page spread is quintessential CLAMP: two slim and lovely ladies with long flowy hair speckled with white ink. The tight panels of the boys’ eyes include more speedlines to help convey their shock.

Honestly, besides the slightly more ornate style here, it’s the speedlines that really convey the biggest tonal difference between these series to me. It’s presumptuous to declare that CLAMP “matured” between the two series, but it really does feel as though they realized they no longer needed to rely on such tricks to convey the protagonist’s feelings. Less is more!

MELINDA: Well, I think it’s probably worth bringing up the fact that Legal Drug ran in a shoujo magazine, where those kinds of flourishes might have been expected, unlike xxxHolic, which had to fit in to the style of a seinen magazine. I mean, CLAMP is always CLAMP, but there’s always a clear sense of what demographic they’re drawing for–even in two series as similar as these.

MICHELLE: That’s a good point. I certainly don’t mean to disparage the style of Legal Drug or insinuate that it’s inferior, but in terms of personal preference, I simply like the cleaner, restrained style of xxxHOLiC more. I mean, just check out how the panel shapes themselves are different. It’s really neat to compare them!

MELINDA: Oh, I completely agree! And though I also have a preference for the artwork in xxxHolic, I do appreciate the shoujo flourishes for their classic flair. More and more, I find the differences fascinating, and I was really surprised, actually, at how easy it was to tell which demographic CLAMP was writing for simply by looking at the artwork of their series in preparation for this Feast. I don’t think I expected it to be so obvious.

MICHELLE: I wouldn’t have, either. But going forward I’ll be making a special point to notice how they adapt their style to the magazine!

Takehiko Inoue MMF Roundaup: Part Four

It’s the fourth quarter, and your co-hosts have banded together to take you through the final stretch!

Anna joins me for a special Let’s Get Visual column dedicated to Inoue’s artwork, where we discuss pages from Real and Vagabond.

And speaking of Vagabond, we both weigh in on the series, with Anna tackling the two most recent VIZBIG editions to be released (nine and ten) and me checking out the first one. Ultimately, it looks like neither of us has found a new favorite over the course of the MMF, but we still both enjoyed branching out!

A big thank you once again to everyone who contributed and left comments. Melinda Beasi of Manga Bookshelf will be hosting the next MMF, which will focus on works by CLAMP.

Let’s Get Visual: Takehiko Inoue

MICHELLE: It’s been a while, but Let’s Get Visual has awoken from its hibernation in time to celebrate the Takehiko Inoue Manga Moveable Feast. Joining me for this occasion is special guest host Anna Neatrour, who is also co-hosting the MMF with me! Welcome, Anna!

ANNA: Thank you! I am excited to join in on a Let’s Get Visual post for Takehiko Inoue, because I think he is one of the top contemporary manga artists. He has an incredibly detailed and realistic style that really sets his manga apart from other series.

MICHELLE: I just started reading Vagabond the other day, and there was one close-up picture of Takezo drawn with extreme care and obvious skill, and I thought, “Y’know, this should be the image that all manga fans carry around to immediately dispel the misconceived notion that all manga looks alike and/or involves big, sparkly eyes.”

ANNA: I think that Inoue’s style (particularly in Real and Vagabond) is probably more reader-friendly to Western comics fans who haven’t read much manga before.

MICHELLE: Yeah, probably so. I’ve often thought that Western comic fans would probably like a bunch of seinen manga if they’d give it a chance.

Anyways, I suppose we should proceed to get visual! The images I’ve chosen are the very first pages in the very first volume of Real.

Real, Vol. 1 (VIZ Media)

I chose these images because they demonstrate how well Inoue is able to communicate Togawa’s character here without needing any words at all. Okay, sure, this guy is in a wheelchair, but he’s clearly driven. He’s pushing himself, possibly to the point of pain (if that’s what that one black panel represents). He has bulging muscles, so he’s clearly been at this a while. He’s moving fast. He may have a disability, but it doesn’t mean that he can’t take being an athlete seriously.

And then you turn the page and see that he is all alone. Inoue pulls back to show the entirety of the gym to emphasize Togawa’s solitude, and if that wasn’t enough, we get a glimpse of the empty school campus, as well. This sets the stage for what we later learn (which you mention in your review)—that Togawa’s attitude toward his wheelchair basketball team does not mesh well with his hobbyist teammates. Here’s a guy who is giving it his all, and he is the only one.

There’s just so much we can tell from this elegant introduction that it kind of blows me away.

ANNA: I agree that one of the things I like best about Inoue’s art is how much the images are able to contribute to the storytelling of his manga without overtly telling the audience anything. The themes touched on in the images you showed are addressed again later in the manga. Togawa’s ego and isolation contribute to his central struggle in the manga, and at the same time his willingness to practice all by himself shows just how dedicated he is to his sport.

MICHELLE: I will always, always be a big fan of nonverbal storytelling, so Inoue really wins my heart here by going above and beyond impressive art.

Want to tell us about the images you picked?

ANNA: The panels I chose were from Volume 26 of Vagabond, collected in the ninth VIZBIG edition of the series.

Vagabond, Vol. 26 (VIZ Media)

One of the reasons why I love Vagabond so much is that the fight scenes are never merely about two people fighting. There’s always a psychological or philosophical element involved. We see Miyamoto Musashi in a midst of battle against 70 members of the Yoshioka sword school, an ambush he willingly walked into. As he battles, he’s focused on centering himself and living in the moment. The close-up panels of his face show the process of self-reflection even as he is mowing down his opponents.

MICHELLE: That’s a really striking sequence. I like how he seems to be looking off into the horizon as he tells himself to have no aspirations for the future, as if to acknowledge the existence of other paths that he’s not allowing himself to take. Granted, I’ve not read the series that far—I’m barely on volume two—but it almost seems to me like he could walk away from this fight if he wanted to, but he’s not letting himself do it. Is that anywhere near the case?

ANNA: I don’t think Musashi is capable mentally of walking away from a fight like this. There are a lot of things that lead up to this sequence of many chapters where Musashi takes on the entire sword school, but one thing that struck me about the battle as a whole is that while you see Musashi getting beaten down and injured, towards the end Inoue almost has the reader concluding that it was really unfair to the 70 men who were planning on ambushing and attacking Musashi from behind that they had to go up against this one particular single opponent. Vagabond’s
fight scenes are always interesting, even when they stretch on for hundreds of pages, simply because the exquisitely rendered battles are contrasted with the internal struggles of the people who are fighting. Battle is as much of a mental exercise as it is a physical one.

MICHELLE: That’s an interesting point! So far I’ve only seen a few fights, and there hasn’t been much on Takezo’s (as Musashi is known at that point in the story) mental state yet. But I definitely admired the pacing and structure of Inoue’s artistic approach to battle—even watching Takezo just turn around and notice one opponent still standing becomes something frankly terrifying.

ANNA: One the things I enjoy about Vagabond is seeing the way Musashi changes over time. The man fighting the sword school in these panels has a measured sense of self and an inner stillness as he fights opponent after opponent. This is totally different from the way Takezo is portrayed in the earlier volumes, where he is more arrogant and animalistic.

MICHELLE: I definitely look forward to seeing how he gets from point A to point B. I admit, I still prefer Inoue’s sports-related series, but there’s just no denying that Vagabond is a masterpiece.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and we hope we’ve inspired you to check out some Inoue!

Takehiko Inoue MMF Roundup: Part Three

What started as a trickle has become a steady stream as the Takehiko Inoue MMF begins drawing to a close!

At Experiments in Manga, Ash brown checks out the second Vagabond VIZBIG omnibus, particularly praising the way battles in the series have lasting repercussions for the characters.

At Manga Report, Anna digs into the past for highlights from the Inoue archive page.

Animemiz posts about Inoue’s artwork at the New York City Kinokuniya location.

At Manga Village, the gang collects a bunch of quotes in praise of Inoue’s Slam Dunk and Lori Henderson gives Vagabond a try but ultimately concludes it’s just not her thing.

Lastly, be sure to check out this really interesting article at Manga Therapy that ponders the notion of strength, as depicted in Vagabond.

My thanks to all the contributors!

Takehiko Inoue MMF Roundup: Part Two

I’ve got a few more Inoue-riffic links to share with you today!

First up, Lori Henderson at Manga Village looks at volume 22 of Slam Dunk, the most recent volume to become available in English, and points out that this is one sports manga where the sport itself is perhaps more important than the typical shounen theme of striving for improvement.

Next, Melinda and I devoted last night’s Off the Shelf column to a discussion of Inoue’s seinen wheelchair basketball series, Real, which we pretty much rave about unreservedly.

Lastly, my lovely cohost Anna contributes another review (love the Peter Sellers reference in the title!), wherein she shares her thoughts on the first six volumes of Slam Dunk. You might recall from our introductory post that she had yet to try the series, but I am happy to report that she likes it! She also writes really good concluding paragraphs, like this one:

One of the reasons why I liked it so much is that there’s a general feeling of warmth that you get when reading this manga. Sakuragi is often made fun of, but he’s portrayed with affection. He even inspires a bit of grudging respect from his teammates as his basketball skills keep getting better. As a bonus, the reader also gets treated to a variety of ’90s fashions and hairstyles. Inoue’s enthusiasm and love for the game informs the manga, making it seem more personal and interesting than a shonen manga that is developed by committee with the aid of magazine polls. After reading Slam Dunk, I can understand why it was one of the top-selling manga in Japan. If you haven’t tried reading Slam Dunk yet, don’t be an idiot like me and wait for several years—just pick up a few volumes as soon as possible.

What she said!

Takehiko Inoue MMF Roundup: Part One

The Takehiko Inoue MMF is underway and submissions are beginning to come in! I’ve got three of them to share this morning.

First up is a post from Matt at Matt Talks About Manga , where he talks about the first VIZBIG collection of Vagabond, comprising the first three volumes of the series. I have to admit that my favorite quote is, “The art. Oh, God, the art. It’s beyond fantastic.”

Next up is Ash at Experiments in Manga, who looks at the first two volumes of Inoue’s Slam Dunk for the My Week in Manga column.

Lastly, my cohost Anna checks out the first five volumes of Real at her site, Manga Report. She’s written the post as a volume-by-volume synopsis, pointing out the particular highlights of each, but my favorite observations are right at the end:

While Real centers around the wheelchair basketball world, it uses that setting as a way of exploring the underlying psychological issues of the protagonists. Nomiya desperately searches for a form of redemption. Hisanobu’s toxic habits of personality and thought patterns threaten to derail his rehabilitation. While there is no question that Togawa has the drive and personality to be an elite athlete, his lack of people skills while playing a team sport might threaten his bright future. Real is just an absolutely gripping manga, and I know I’m going to be seeking out the remaining translated volumes of the series as soon as possible.

Thanks to all contributors! And remember, if you want to participate… the MMF is running through June 30th and you can email me (swanjun at gmail dot com) with links to your submission!

Announcing the Takehiko Inoue Manga Moveable Feast!

What: A multi-blogger event focused on the works of Takehiko Inoue. (Those published in English include Slam Dunk, Vagabond, and Real.)

When: The week of June 24-30, 2012.

Who: Co-hosted by Michelle Smith and Anna Neatrour, participation open to all!

Why: Because we are both major Inoue fans and want to spread the love!

Where: Soliloquy in Blue (that’s here!) and Manga Report (that’s here!).

How: Anna will be maintaining the archive at Manga Report, so if you’ve written anything Inoue-related in the past that you’d like to be included, just send her an e-mail. Michelle will be posting daily MMF wrap-up reports at Soliloquy in Blue, so if you’re contributing new stuff, drop her a line. You can also post your link on Twitter using the hashtag #inouemmf. If you don’t have a blog of your own but would like to contribute, just let us know and we can make that happen!