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. MJ of Manga Bookshelf will be hosting the next MMF, which will focus on works by CLAMP.

Vagabond, Vols. 1-3

By Takehiko Inoue | Published by VIZ Media (first VIZBIG edition)

One of my goals for this Manga Moveable Feast was to finally read some of Vagabond. I’ve been collecting the VIZBIG editions since they started coming out, which means there were ten of these on my shelf (with their spines forming a group portrait) unread. Now that I finally have read some of Vagabond, I’ve found it so different from the Inoue I’m familiar with—and yet containing some of the same themes—that I’m rather at a loss for words.

Shinmen Takezo is the son of a legendary swordsman, though we don’t really find that out until volume three. Since the age of thirteen, when he killed a man who came to Miyamoto village looking to challenge its strongest occupant, he’s been ostracized by all save a couple of childhood friends and he’s recently been off to battle with one of them, Hon’iden Matahachi. They both survive a bloody battle, but Matahachi takes up with a thieving widow, leaving Takezo to return to Miyamoto with tidings of Matahachi’s survival.

To make a long story very short: Takezo meets with an unfriendly welcome and is manipulated by a clever monk named Takuan into reevaluating his life. Four years later, now going by the name Miyamoto Musashi, he shows up in Kyoto looking to challenge the head of the Yoshioka sword school, and though he defeats many of their members, he learns there are still those stronger than him. A drunken Matahachi accidentally sets the blaze that allows Musashi to escape, and the VIZBIG ends with him realizing that the old friend he left for dead might actually have survived.

Even though I knew this was about swordsmen, I somehow didn’t expect it to be as gory as it is. There are a lot of death blows being dealt here, as Musashi is obsessed with measuring/proving his strength against others and willing to sacrifice his life to this aim. That said, at times the art is absolutely gorgeous, and there are a few color pages that look like bona fide paintings. The scope, layout, and pacing of the story all lend it a cinematic feel that is genuinely impressive. There’s one scene early on, when Musashi turns around to face the one opponent left standing and it’s genuinely terrifying.

But yet, I mostly found it unaffecting. I expect there will be more insight into the main character as time progresses, but for now he’s so closed off, so proud of his strength and being hailed a demon that I can’t grow fond of him or endorse his goals. I have a feeling I’m not supposed to. I did identify with Matahachi a lot, though, especially his inferiority complex in regards to his friend and his inability to follow through with the heroic deeds he imagines himself performing. I like Otsu, the fiancée Matahachi left behind, and I’m intrigued by Takuan, the monk. I’ll keep reading for them, if nothing else.

One thing about Musashi reminds me a lot of Hisanobu Takahashi in Real. As a child, Hisanobu was attempting to master a particular basketball move that his father showed him. He worked very hard on it, but was never able to show his father because the latter abandoned the family. Musashi has also been abandoned by his mother and shunned by his father, and part of his drive to test himself seems due to the desire to show them his strength, show them that he doesn’t need to depend on anyone else. Musashi is a real historical figure, not a character Inoue created, but it seems like he’s drawn to these confident yet wounded types.

Ultimately, I can see why Vagabond is hailed as a masterpiece, and I will certainly keep reading it, but my heart will always belong to Inoue’s sports manga, Slam Dunk in particular. The heart wants what the heart wants!

Vagabond is published in English by VIZ Media. Single volumes up through 33 have been published, as well as ten “VIZBIG” editions comprised of three volumes each. An eleventh VIZBIG edition is scheduled to be released in December. Inoue has recently resumed the series in Japan, so the upcoming release of volume 34 (October) will be the first new Vagabond released in English in two years.

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, MJ 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!

Tidbits: Shonen Jumpin’ Jehosaphat

Sometimes I just crave some shounen manga! Here, then, are a few short reviews of some shounen I have lately read: the third volume of Bakuman。, the 31st through 34th of Bleach, the second of Genkaku Picasso, and the thirteenth through fifteenth of Slam Dunk. All are fairly recent releases and all published under VIZ’s Shonen Jump imprint; Bakuman。 and Genkaku Picasso also have new volumes due out in May.

Bakuman。3 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
This was my favorite volume of Bakuman。 so far!

It begins with Mashiro and Takagi struggling to create a mainstream battle manga, over the objections of their editor, because they believe this is the ticket to popularity in Shonen Jump. They improve a lot between attempts, but in the end, Takagi requests some time alone over summer break to think of a new story, leaving Mashiro free to work as an assistant for Eiji Nizuma, their rival.

MJ adores Eiji, and when he first appeared in this volume I was wondering how that could be, since he comes across as bratty and weird. Once you get to know him, though, it turns out he’s actually kind of endearing. He simply says what he thinks, and is incapable of being malicious or devious. After watching him happily and genuinely soak up feedback from his assistants—apparently his editor at Jump is too in awe of his genius to offer any useful guidance—I kind of love him, too!

To top it off, we see some growth from the female characters. Miho makes some progress in her dream of becoming a voice actress, although right now she seems to be succeeding mostly on account of her good looks. Miyoshi comes up with the goal of being a novelist, though her primary function in this volume is to captivate Takagi with her general awesomeness and make Mashiro doubt that his partner is working on the promised story at all.

In the end, the future of the partnership appears to be in jeopardy, even though both guys have independently hit upon the idea of a detective manga as the way to go. I’ve always found this series interesting for its inside glimpse into the publication process, but now I’m starting to find it interesting for the characters, as well. I eagerly await volume four!

Bleach 31-34 by Tite Kubo
You might not think that battles against creepy supernatural foes with bizarre powers could be boring, but it turns out that Bleach somehow manages it.

Volumes 31 through 33 are chiefly comprised of fights against weird-looking dudes during which nearby structures often go “boom” and crumble. It’s pretty much impossible to tell what’s going on, so I just sort of coast along until there’s a panel that shows someone actually being hurt by something. There are but two bright spots in these volumes. One is the predictable but still gratifying revelation that Nel, the toddler who’s been accompanying Ichigo in his journey across Hueco Mundo, is actually a badass (and buxom) former Espada. The second is an honestly riveting scene in which a hollowfied Ichigo appears before Orihime for the first time and terrifies her.

Things improve a bit in volume 34 with the timely arrival of some Soul Reaper captains. Okay, yes, their explanation for their arrival is pretty flimsy, but I will accept any excuse if it means Byakuya will be around. This also leads to a crazy battle of one-upsmanship between one of the stranger Soul Reapers, Kurotsuchi, and his Arrancar opponent. It goes something like this:

Arrancar: Fear my leet skills! I will turn your innards into dust!

Kurotsuchi: Oh, actually, I infected [Uryuu] with surveillance bacteria the last time we were fighting, so I’ve been watching your battle and, aware of your abilities, have replaced all my insides with fakes. Too bad. Now my gloopy pet will eat you.

Arrancar: Lo, I have been et. But before that happened I implanted [Nemu] with my egg, which will hatch and grow a new me! Plus, there are bits of me still in your pet, which will allow me to use it to attack you.

Gloopy pet: *splat*

Kurotsuchi: Oh, but before you did that I programmed my pet to self-destruct if anyone ever tried to use it against me. Also, I filled Nemu’s body full of drugs for the same reason, so now you’re going to see everything in extreme slow mo while I kill you.

Arrancar: Crap.

Honestly, it’s so outrageous one kind of can’t help admiring it!

Genkaku Picasso 2 by Usamaru Furuya
I really wish I could like Genkaku Picasso more. Mostly this is because Usamaru Furuya’s art is really impressive—true, in their normal states the characters don’t look all that exciting (and the lip-glossy sheen on the boys’ lips is somewhat distracting) but the illustrations created by artistic protagonist Hikari Hamura are detailed and gorgeous, and I like that Furuya continues drawing in that style when Hikari and his ghostly advisor, former classmate Chiaki, enter into the drawings in order to help solve the problems plaguing their classmates.

The problem is that I just don’t like any of the characters! Hikari is creepy, anti-social, and perverted, and is always reluctant to help out his classmates, putting Chiaki in the role of always being the one who reminds him that he has to help them, otherwise he’s going to rot away. (He cheated death in volume one and this is the manner in which he must pay for that.) I could possibly like Chiaki if she were given something to do besides pester Hikari all the time, but that’s not the case.

The manner in which the classmates are helped by Hikari and Chiaki is also odd. The pair enters a drawing based on the “heart” of said classmate and attempts to figure out what is worrying them. One boy has created a fictional girlfriend, for example, while another girl sees herself as a mecha rather than an actual girl. While inside the drawing, Hikari and Chiaki attempt to reason with the classmate, while in the real world, the classmate answers them aloud, making them look totally freaking crazy to the people who happen to be around. If I was hanging out with my friend and he began to break up with his imaginary girlfriend right in front of me, I think I would be quite alarmed.

That said, there is one bright spot in this volume—the tale of Yosuke, a girl born in a body of the wrong gender. Perhaps it’s a little too optimistic, but I liked it anyway, especially the fact that the “heart” of the transgender kid is the calmest and healthiest place we’ve seen yet.

If Genkaku Picasso were any longer, I might not continue it, but since there’s only one volume left, I shall persevere.

Slam Dunk 13-15 by Takehiko Inoue
Ordinarily, if a series took two-and-a-half volumes to cover less than an hour of action, I might be annoyed. Not so with Slam Dunk, which takes that long to finish Shohoku High’s exciting prefectural tournament match against Kainan, a team that has made it to Nationals every year in recent memory.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs when one reads Slam Dunk. Hanamichi Sakuragi, the hot-headed protagonist, has matured somewhat since the beginning of the series, though he’s still inclined to proclaim himself a genius at every opportunity. Hence, it’s pretty satisfying to see him humbled, and to watch him realize that he hasn’t yet got the skills to carry the team or hog the spotlight. And yet, there comes a point where the humbling has been sufficient, and one wants to see him triumph.

When Captain Akagi sprains his ankle during the game, Sakuragi, realizing how immensely important this game is to Akagi, does his best to fill the captain’s shoes. How can you not root for someone trying so hard to make someone else‘s dream come true? Yes, it’s the talented Rukawa who is single-handedly responsible for tying up the game by halftime, but Sakuragi is just trying so damned hard that his bluster actually becomes a source of strength for his teammates. When he finally makes an impressive slam dunk in front of a cheering crowd, I convince that I got a little sniffly.

Shohoku ends up losing the game, though this doesn’t put them out of the running for Nationals just yet. The disappointing experience makes Sakuragi more serious than ever before and he returns to school with a shaved head (as penance for an unfortunate mistake during the final seconds of the game) and a fierce desire to improve.

Why do I love sports manga so much? I’m honestly not sure I can articulate it, but with Slam Dunk part of it is the fact that the hero, who previously had no goals in life, has found a place to belong and something to care about. That kind of story pushes my personal buttons in a big way.

Review copies for Bakuman。, Genkaku Picasso, and volume fourteen of Slam Dunk provided by the publisher.

Tidbits: Shonen Jumping for Joy

Welcome back to Tidbits, a new feature for shorter reviews! This time I take a look at three continuing series from VIZ’s Shonen Jump imprint. First up, it’s volumes 28-31 of One Piece, followed by volumes 9-12 of Slam Dunk and a single volume (the third) of the aesthetically pleasing Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee.

One Piece 28-31 by Eiichiro Oda: B+
Volumes 28-30 consist almost entirely of fighting, as the forces of the all-powerful “Kami” of Skypiea, Eneru, clash with the Shandians (fighting to regain their lost city), while the Straw Hat pirates (just lookin’ for some gold) are caught in the middle. Eneru, as it turns out, has staged the whole thing as a survival game, and figures that after three hours, only five of the original 81 combatants will survive. After this, we get periodic updates as to how many remain, a device I found strangely satisfying.

Although some of the battles are between characters we’ve never seen before, those encounters are usually brief. While Luffy spends the entirety of volume 29 stuck inside a giant serpent, many of the other Straw Hats get a chance to shine, especially Chopper and Robin, whose battles with Eneru’s minions show off the versatility of their respective powers. Nami, too, gets more experience using her new weapons and Conis, a resident of Skypiea, marshals her courage to defy the Kami and warn the people of his plans to destroy the island. There’s been some discussion lately about manga that passes the Bechdel Test, and these volumes exemplify why One Piece does so with flying colors.

Speaking of Robin, I am liking her more and more. This is the first time we’ve really seen her on her own and though it’s always been evident how intelligent and competent she is, it’s nice to see she’s also trustworthy and kind of a badass. She’s generally reserved but is passionate about archaeology, and through her we begin to get hints about a 100-year gap in the history of the world, something that could turn out to be huge. At one point she references “the unspoken history that the land below has ceased to talk about,” and later discovers that Shandora “fought against the enemy.” Thirty volumes in and we’re just starting something so big and potentially awesome? Oda, I think I love you.

After Eneru puts in motion his plan to destroy Skypiea, a mass exodus of its residents ensues. Volume 31 departs from the present panic to flesh out the history of the island and how it ties in with Mont Blanc Noland. This is actually the best part of the Skypiea arc so far and explains quite a few things while being a durn good story in and of itself. The arc doesn’t quite wrap up here, but now that I fully understand the significance of the golden bell in the city of Shandora, I care a lot more about the outcome than I have done in recent volumes!

Slam Dunk 9-12 by Takehiko Inoue: B+
It takes some willpower not to devour each new release of Slam Dunk, but it’s so immensely satisfying to read multiple volumes back-to-back that the wait is worth it!

Volume nine marks the start of the Kanagawa Prefectural Tournament, in which the Shohoku team is able to take part thanks to Hanamichi’s friends taking responsibility for the on-court brawl that occurred in the previous volume. Shohoku is underestimated at first, but the return of Miyagi and Mitsui to the team—both of whom are greeted with somewhat awed recognition from the crowd—makes them a force to be reckoned with. They progress steadily through the tournament, eventually ending up in the final four against Kainan, a school that has made it to Nationals sixteen years in a row.

Hanamichi is his usual annoying self to begin with, demanding that the ball be passed to him and proclaiming himself a genius at every opportunity. After fouling out in each of the first four games, and after recognizing the skills and strengths of his teammates, he finally realizes that he’s not such hot stuff after all. Despite occasional relapses, this marks a real turning point for Hanamichi, as he is able to accept tutelage more readily and function better as a part of the team. For example, though he originally harbored dreams of outscoring Rukawa, once he makes snagging rebounds his focus instead, he’s able to contribute a great deal to Shohoku’s success. His progress and maturation combined with a slightly more humble attitude go a long way toward making him more likable, and it’s quite touching when he gets his first rousing cheer from the crowd.

Structurally, Slam Dunk is very similar to The Prince of Tennis. Though I love the latter a lot, Slam Dunk is the more exciting read, a fact I’d chalk up to the nature of the sport. In tennis, our lead characters battle either singly or in pairs against their foes, while the rest are relegated to commentary until it’s their turn. Here, all the principle characters are on the court at the same time, which gives more immediacy to the way they’re able to motivate each other. True, the characters in Eyeshield 21 all play simultaneously, too, but because basketball moves at a faster pace than football, the effect here is exhilarating, bordering on addictive.

Unfortunately, there’s no more Slam Dunk due until December! Perhaps I’ll investigate whether Inoue’s more dramatic basketball manga, REAL, can help stave off the cravings.

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee 3 by Hiroyuki Asada: C+
Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee is the story of Lag Seeing, a twelve-year-old boy who has just become a Letter Bee (government mail carrier) in the perpetually dark country of Amberground, inspired by Gauche Suede, a Letter Bee he met five years ago. Lag had hoped to reunite with Gauche, but after learning that his hero disappeared six months after he last saw him, he meets with Gauche’s sister, Sylvette, and promises to find out what happened to her brother.

Gauche was by far the more interesting of the two characters featured in volume one, so it’s nice to get a few glimpses of him here. These tibits—and the bonus story about reuniting an aging dingo (animal companion) with the Letter Bee he faithfully served—are the best things about the volume. Lag is still not a very interesting protagonist and I’ve grown to pretty much hate his dingo, Niche. I’m sure she’s intended to be comic relief, but the story would be better served by cutting her unfunny antics and devoting that page space to clarifying the narrative, which is still going on and on about the importance of “heart.”

Back in January when I reviewed volume two, I said I’d give Tegami Bachi one more chance to win me over. As problematic as the series continues to be, after what we learn about Gauche’s disappearance and mysterious memory loss in this volume, I can’t imagine myself stopping without learning what happened to him. I don’t think this counts as “won over” so much as “minimally intrigued,” but either way, I’ll probably keep reading.

Review copies for volumes nine, eleven, and twelve of Slam Dunk provided by the publisher.

Slam Dunk 8 by Takehiko Inoue: B+

slamdunk8After an admirable performance in an exhibition game against a tough rival, the Shohoku High basketball team is ready to get back to practice, but a gang of thugs with a grudge against team member Ryota Miyagi makes that impossible. They invade the court with the intent of starting a brawl that’ll get the Shohoku team disqualified from competition. Just when the thugs have been beaten back, with help from Hanamichi’s pals, assistant captain Kogure reveals that the lead punk, Mitsui, was once a promising member of the team.

What follows is a multi-chapter tale of hubris, wounded knees, and wasted potential, and it might perhaps seem rather pointless if not for all the heartfelt emotion on display and the certainty that Mitsui will once again rejoin the team. Kogure, typically very mild in manner, shows he’s tougher than he looks while Mitsui does the opposite when confronted by Coach Anzai, whom he dearly loves and respects.

All in all, there’s very little actual basketball in this volume but there is a lot of team building, which makes for a very enjoyable reading experience.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.