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

7SEEDS 5 (Japanese) by Yumi Tamura: B+

Book description:
With the rest of Team Summer B settled nearby the shelter at Mt. Yufudake in Kyushu, Arashi and Natsu decide to journey to Kanto to see what has become of their homes and families. Joined by Semimaru, they soon encounter Team Autumn, who were released three years ago and who have built a secure village. The only problem is that a tyrannical couple treats the others like slave labor, and the team’s guide is too weak to put a stop to it. Is this the kind of desperation Team Summer B will eventually experience?

It becomes apparent in this volume that we’re not only bouncing around in time a little, but that the various teams were released at different times, as well. The story of Team Winter recounted in the last volume actually took place fifteen years ago, while Team Autumn has been working to survive for three years. Also, in the last volume Hana found a note in a stockpile that was actually left by Natsu in this volume, if that makes sense.

Anyway, there’s a lot of traveling going on in this volume. Although I was looking forward to the teams meeting up, it kind of amuses me that Arashi, Natsu, and Semimaru suddenly seem to run into every team but Hana’s on this outing. Like, in the whole of an empty and desolate Japan, they just happen to walk in the direction where Team Autumn has built their village. I suppose having common clues for where to look for the stockpiles helps a little, but still.

Team Autumn is pretty horrible, and the Summer B folk are scarred by the experience, so when they meet gentle and kind Taka from Team Winter, they end up suspecting him and slipping away in the night. Just a few days later, he runs into Hana from Team Spring, and she (who has met no one else yet) accepts him. It’s very sweet. It also shows just how close Arashi and Hana are to each other without knowing it.

Alas, not much more than this really happens in the volume. Walking, angsting, big dangerous animals, reckless puppies. That about sums it up.

7SEEDS 4 (Japanese) by Yumi Tamura: A-

Book description:
It’s been confirmed that the desolate land is indeed Japan, though the teams still don’t know what happened or what year it is. Team Spring—having lost their guide, Yanagi—travels to Mt. Fuji to look for another of the stockpiles, only to find that the volcano has erupted and is no longer there. Just as their hope is flagging, Hana notices some manmade signs directing them to another mountain to the east. The members of Team Winter face their own hardships from the start—between equipment failures, man-eating tigers, and Hokkaido’s bitter cold, some of them will not survive.

The majority of the chapters in this volume featured Team Winter. I’m a little torn about the introduction of other teams into the story. On the one hand I want to see them and what they’re doing, and on the other, there are already tons of characters as it is. Right from the start, Team Winter’s story is a bit more grim than the others, however, as a few of their number do not survive the thawing process, and I got into it more than I thought I would.

More shocks and twists in the story follow, and since I’m not the kind to go around suspecting such things, I really enjoyed the various surprises. The main protagonist of this group is Taka, who believed himself to be weak until inspired by the example of boisterous Fubuki, another member of the group. It was good to see how Taka had progressed by the end of the story, though the appearance of a couple of precious puppies at a crucial point was a bit silly (but sniff-inducing nonetheless).

So, as it stands, each of the teams has now located a stockpile of goods and is camped out nearby. Arashi and Natsu have passed through where Hana’s team is and left a note, though Hana, of course, still has no idea that Arashi is alive. I’m eager for the teams to meet up, especially since I have no idea what to expect from the story after that happens. I have faith that it’ll be something really cool.

7SEEDS 3 (Japanese) by Yumi Tamura: A-

Book description:
In the near future, a huge meteorite has collided with the earth. Governments around the world, who had forseen this worst case scenario, took countermeasures so that humanity would not go extinct. One example is Japan’s “Seven Seeds” project, in which young people were carefully selected and cryogenically frozen until such time as a computer deemed Earth safe for human habitation.

Team Summer B has left their inhospitable island in search of answers while Team Spring’s attempt to escape theirs failed due in part to the misogynist Yanagi, who wants to assume control of the group and refuses to heed the others’ suggestions. After a fall into a pit of deadly mantises, Yanagi is presumed dead. What could his sudden reappearance mean?

There were some sequences in this volume that were just downright COOL. In a deliciously freaky moment, Team Summer B discovered a Nagasaki landmark—a giant statue—almost entirely submerged in water. It was that discovery that really made the reality of their situation sink in. On their separate course, Team Spring realized that they were in Yokohama. Members of each group ventured off separately to check on the status of their home towns, leading to the exploration of creepy abandoned buildings and stuff. I love that sort of thing.

Tamura is adept at maintaining a tense atmosphere and kept the pacing of the story at a satisfying level. Some of the answers I’d been waiting for were provided, but plenty of plot potential remains. I suppose my main complaint at this point is the size of the cast. Sure, Basara had a ton of people, but they felt more gradually introduced. In 7SEEDS there’s already 15 or so. A couple of them got some development in this volume, but there really aren’t any that I particularly care about yet.

It’s the story rather than the characters that’s driving the series at this point. Luckily it’s a darned good one.

Basara 27 by Yumi Tamura: B+

From the back cover:
In this special collection of side stories, join Sarasa and Shuri after the war, as they rebuild Japan and travel the world together. In the distant Huang Empire, Sarasa is infected with a fatal disease—but will Shuri betray the Huang Emperor to save her? And when the new Japanese government is beset with turmoil, it’s up to two children to convince a reclusive hermit named Hayato to lead his country.

Finally, Yumi Tamura offers a glimpse of life before the apocalypse… before the ruined world Sarasa knows… before the beginning of Basara!

What I like about how Tamura envisioned these appendices is that they feel like natural extentions of the main story. She didn’t have to manufacture some conflict for Shuri and Sarasa that was insulting to them, like inserting some new vixen who’s a threat to their relationship. Instead, it’s a story about guilt and atonement, adjusting to the needs of another person, and making amends by doing something with one’s life.

The tale with Hayato also isn’t useless fluff, since he’s dealing with anger towards Tatara who seemingly deserted them all and whose absence led to the creation of a government that didn’t fit the revolutionaries’ ideals. Shuri and Sarasa’s kids make an appearance, and they’re cute enough, but the best is Motomichi, all growed up and looking incredibly like his dad. I especially like the panels where Hayato looks into the young man’s eyes and thinks “I killed your father.”

The rest of the stories are really, really short and don’t contribute a great deal to my enjoyment of the book either way. The last one, though brief, does end on a good note for the series, however.

Now Basara is really over. Sniff.

7SEEDS 2 (Japanese) by Yumi Tamura: A-

Book description:
A strange man on the island who helped free Arashi and Natsu from some carnivorous plants gives them a clue as to why they find themselves in this predicament—it’s not a kidnapping, it’s “a government project.” The four castaways decide to climb a rocky outcrop from which they can survey their surroundings and get an idea of what is going on and where they are. But what will be waiting for them up there?

The story progresses nicely in this volume. Some answers are revealed regarding the government project, a few additional castaways are discovered, and the group decides to leave the dangerous island. The larger cast and the communal goal brought a Basara-like feel to the proceedings.

And just as the first group is launching out to sea, we meet another group of castaways in the same situation. One of them is Hana (who looks a great deal like Sarasa), the girlfriend of Arashi in the first group (who looks a great deal like Shuri). Natsu has a bit of a crush on Arashi, but Hana is far more worthy of him. It’s kind of interesting to not want the heroine to get the guy, though I guess Hana qualifies as co-heroine by this point.

I actually find this second group more interesting so far. Their circumstances are similar—more with the giant, predatory insects—but Hana’s smart and resourceful and also has to confront a lecherous guy who thinks he’s in charge, which makes for better reading than a timid girl freaking out about giant crocodiles.

One of the best things about the story is that now that the groups know about the project (though some don’t entirely believe it), they’re coming to wonder how many years have actually gone by since they were frozen and are driven to get away from the islands and find out what’s become of Japan and the world. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

7SEEDS 1 (Japanese) by Yumi Tamura: B+

Book description:
The last thing Natsu remembers is going to sleep in her own bed. She awakes on a sinking ship in the company of three strangers, each with no memory of how they got there. After managing to reach a deserted island, the four need to overcome their differences and work together to find out about the inhospitable, strange island where nature appears totally out of balance. What happened? How did they get there? And will they be able to survive?

Yumi Tamura’s Basara is one of my favorite manga series, so I was really interested in reading 7SEEDS, a series she began in 2002.

The premise is an interesting one, though comparisons with the TV show Lost are probably inevitable. This first volume mainly covers the four castaways exploring the island, discovering that most living things—animal, plant, or insect—really really want to eat them, and being suspicious of one another.

The heroine of the piece is Natsu, and she’s a little annoying so far, as she’s very timid and seemingly unable to think for herself. There’s two guys—the nice Arashi and the not-nice Semimaru—who are both really afraid of bugs. My favorite character so far is the ruthlessly practical Botan, who seems to have more of an idea of what’s going on than any of the others.

Tamura does well with dramatic moments—the frequency of thunderstorms on the island helps to furnish ominous lightning as needed—and it’s never dull, though it’s pretty much just setup so far. The art is essentially unchanged from Basara and though Arashi looks a great deal like Shuri and Natsu like Kikune, they’re still distinct enough in expression that I don’t think one would confuse them. I really like how Botan is drawn; her competence just radiates.

I’m sure Basara wasn’t a hot seller for Viz, but I hope they or some other company will license 7SEEDS for American release someday. We need more good sci-fi shoujo!

Basara 26 by Yumi Tamura: B

From the back cover:
Sarasa’s quest for freedom has ended, but the story isn’t over yet! In this volume of special side stories, Yumi Tamura goes deeper than ever before to explore the characters and world of Basara. Hijiri and Nachi recount childhood memories of ships, sea monsters, and mermaids. A band of star-crossed rebels arises in another time—and changes the course of Sarasa’s battle. And Tatara finds his true calling… as a pop star?

These stories weren’t bad, but they really weren’t anything awesome, either.

The first story, “Nakama” (fellowship), featured Hijiri and Nachi and showed how they originally became friends and also tied in with both of them moving on with their lives and thinking of starting families. It was cute. That’s about as much as can be said about it.

In “Dakara” (because), Asagi attempted to explain his dislike of Shuri to his manservant by describing an incident wherein a beloved peach got smooshed. Really, that was all it was. It was very short, though it at least provided the info that Asagi was indeed on his way to visit Hijiri and Nachi.

The bulk of the volume was occupied by “Katana” (sword), a tale about an ultimately unsuccessful band of rebels who fought against the royal family a few generations before the heroes of the main story. I liked parts of this a good deal, especially all the unrequited love going on, but it was just too short (even with 100 pages) to really get to know the characters. I did like how Tara, the sole female warrior in the group, tied in with the main cast. Some of the other connections were obvious (we already knew Hayato was descended from one of these guys), but hers was a surprise.

I haven’t much to say about the pop star thing, other than that it was pure silliness. And it had a cameo by Motomichi! That alone was worth something, at least.

Basara 25 by Yumi Tamura: A+

From the back cover:
Sarasa has led her army to victory, faced down King Ukon, and won the hearts and minds of her people. Now, in the final hours of battle, her actions—and Shuri’s—will decide Japan’s ultimate fate. Sarasa began her quest in Tatara’s shadow. The time has come for her to step into the light, speak her real name, and accept her true destiny as the woman who will lead Japan into a new age of peace and freedom!

Plus two bonus stories!

I admit it: I cried. At things happy, sad, and both at once. I’ve invested three years in this series and can happily say that it was worth it. I’m not going to give any details on how things go down, so suffice it to say that the ending is very satisfying. I must’ve reread the last few pages three times to savor all that Sarasa had accomplished.

Neither of the bonus stories was silly this time around, which was a good thing, as it would’ve been a jarring juxtaposition with the main story. The first one was pretty good and was all about the White King’s miserable life. It also answered some questions about Asagi as well as revealing King Ukon’s eventual fate. The second one was about Ageha’s adolescence and was very sad. I was teary again by the end of it.

Basara is probably the best manga I have ever read. Thanks, Viz, for taking a chance on it.

Basara 24 by Yumi Tamura: A+

From the back cover:
As the war for Japan rages on, the battle reaches the Royal Castle itself. Sarasa penetrates the castle’s defenses to confront the traitorous Asagi. Shuri, wounded and crippled, pursues Sarasa even though the chase may kill him. Ageha descends into a labyrinth beneath the castle to stop a deadly mechanism designed to destroy them all. And King Ukon, now a pathetic, desperate shell of a ruler, grimly awaits Tatara’s arrival!

This was another action-packed volume, as the four most important characters found themselves in jeopardy of some kind or another. There were a few things I didn’t quite get in this volume, like what exactly Sarasa meant when she said she’d choose Asagi over Shuri, and the White King’s motives were a little unclear, but there was enough really good stuff to make up for those small problems.

I liked that I genuinely felt anxiety over the safety of Asagi and Ageha, because either of their deaths would be a poignant one, though it doesn’t seem likely that either of the two romantic leads will die. There was also a surprise revelation about Asagi’s past that was pretty cool. I look forward to seeing if it changes his outlook on life at all.

Some fun bonus material rounded out the volume, including some four-panel strips and a chapter that reimagined this series as something akin to Hana-Kimi, with Sarasa sneaking into a boys’ dorm disguised as her brother to find out who was responsible for defenestrating him. I also loved the sidebar section (in the middle of a serious chapter) where an off-camera rock comes and beans the villain who’s currently being profiled.