ARIA Vol 1 by Kozue Amano: Gently meandering through the canals of Mars

aria cover

Blade Comics

This is probably the most relaxing manga ever written.

Meet Akari Mizunashi.

pic 1

Blade Comics

 

She’s what the Japanese call ‘genki’.

And this is her story.

It seems that in terra-forming Mars humans flooded the planet.

Now it is known as Aqua

Technology is 100 years behind Earth.

Now called Manhome.

pic 3

Blade Comics

But back to Akari.

She left Earth with a dream.

To become a fully qualified Undine (Gondolier) on the canals of Neo Venicia.

She is serving her apprenticeship with the ARIA company.

And that is basically what this manga is about.

Nothing life threatening happens.

Don’t read this expecting Dragon Ball Z type battles.

It is written in the style of letters home.

Everyday stories of a young girl gaining confidence and finding her place.

This manga showcases a couple of aspects of Japanese society that I think you’ll find interesting.

Group effort

Pic 7

Blade Comics

I first read this manga back in 2002 when I lived in Japan.

Back then I taught English in a high school in Kawaguchi.

The whole ethos of the Japanese education system was work hard as a team and be cheerful while you do it.

It’s not a bad ethos.

Reading about Akari I was reminded of many of my students who embodied those principles of working hard and striving for self improvement.

Japanese Europhiles 

pic 4

Blade Comics

 

Many Japanese people absolutely love the ancient capitals of Europe.

They have an idea of what these places are like that equates to a fairytale land.

A lot of Ghibili anime are also influenced by this aesthetic for example Kiki’s Delivery Service.

In fact, there is actually a condition called Paris Syndrome which Japanese tourists are particularly susceptible to.

When the reality of the city is so misaligned with the idealized image it literally makes them crazy.

So you can see why creating a fictional Venice with all its ancient beauty intact and a layer of Japanese culture on top would be so appealing for Japanese readers.

O Kami-sama

pic 5

Blade Comics

The last reason I love this edition so much is the chapter called ‘Otenki Ame’ or ‘Rain of the Gods’.

When I lived in Japan I was fascinated by the many Shinto shrines large and small on street corners.

Close to my house was a small fox shrine.

I would always glance over at it as I cycled past.

Sure that the fox statue was watching me with his dark eyes of stone.

It wasn’t creepy.

It was an incredibly special place.

The atmosphere seemed to hang heavy around that little shrine.

So when I read ‘Otenki Ame’ it really made me smile.

Japan is a real dichotomy between ancient and modern.

Sometimes the ancient can seem rigid and frustrating.

But sometimes it can seem worth a thousand times more that all the throwaway culture we consume every day.

pic 6

Blade Comics

Maybe if you’ve visited or lived in Japan you’ll read this comic and also feel that wonderful sense of nastukashii.

Or if you’ve always wanted to visit then read this comic and get a sense of the essential Japanese character from a really sweet, feel-good story.

Also as a side note, Kozue Amano draws cats in a very odd way. The ‘President’ of the ARIA company the Shachou is a chubby white cat.

The cat is actually based on the artists own feline and I think it adds a unique look to the manga which is otherwise pretty standard in it’s aesthetic.

What do you think of ARIA Shachou?

pic 2

Blade Comics

 

 

You can buy Aria published in English by ADV Manga online and on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

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East of West issue by issue summary #01-11

east-of-west-11

We are now at issue #11 of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s fantastic futuristic dystopian western series East of West.

But with so much going on in each issue it’s easy to forget who’s who, and why the heck there is a snake coming out of that guy’s head.

So to help us all enjoy issue #11 even more I thought I’d try to summarise what’s happened so far in three sentences per issue.Caveat: they are allowed to be long sentences!

This is only done for fun and as a memory aide so please be gentle if I get anything wrong. In fact if you are able to clarify anything please let me know in the comments!

Phew, it’s a big task but here goes.

***SPOILERS***

Issue 1

Three creepy children come up out of the earth and decide to kill Death and then destroy the world. We learn the world deviated from the present as we know it during the Civil War, seven nations were born and The Message reveals the story of the world’s end. Death goes to The Union with two of the Endless Nation (Crow and Wolf) and kills the President in the White Tower.

Issue 2

The three kids (who are War, Conquest and Famine) make Antonia LeVay President (there might be some killing involved) before sending her off to Armistice to meet with the other Chosen. Andrew Archibald Chamberlain, Chief of Staff at The Black Towers returns home to find Death with his feet up on his desk.  We learn that The Chosen helped the other three horsemen to find death 10 years ago and kill his wife – only she’s not dead!

Issue 3

In New Shanghai we meet Xiaolian, Death’s wife, held prisoner by her envious sister Hu and dictator father Mao. Three horsemen walk into a bar…and talk with an oracle’s eyeball. Death arrives at the walls of New Shanghai and tells Mao to prepare for his judgement.

East-of-West-Image2

Issue 4

A battle begins; the House of Mao: Dragons and Widow-makers against Death on his amazing weaponised horse and two magical side-kicks. Xiaolian dispatches her sister and her father taking her place at the head of the House of Mao. The three horsemen warn Chamberlain that The Chosen had better toe the line and play their part as The Message dictates.

Issue 5

We get the backstory of Death and Xiaolian’s falling in love and OMG they had a son! Xiaolin thought he was killed by her attackers after death was called away – but The Chosen think he is The Beast of the Apocalypse and are holding him captive as part of an organic mega-computer. Bel Solomon asks Chamberlain to help stop The Chosen but he just laughs and says ‘nuh uh’.

East-of-West-5-Where-does-babby-come-from

Issue 6

Meanwhile over at Armistice the Keeper of the Message brings forth a beast from the horsemen to flush out a traitor revealed by The Message. Chamberlain betrays Bel and Cheveyo gives chase in the form of a Sarlacc-type demon, Bel makes it to his ship but with a shot-off tentacle round his neck. Bel asks The Ranger to kill The Chosen.

Issue 7

The Keeper is now merged with the grotesque beast (blerg) and it seems they are bound till the end of days. Death and his companions take a winding staircase under a lake. We flashback to when pilgrims visited Armistice, the Four would show up and slaughter them, but one baby was saved by Conquest and reared on blood and The Message. He was Ezra Orion, now the Beast/Keeper of the Message.

Issue 8

Back at the White Tower Antonia LeVay is watching her city burn as people protest against political and economic unrest. Death visits the Oracle in the under-the-lake prison to ask where his son is – and he’s willing to trade for the information. Antonia LeVay shows just how evil she is and starts to quell the rebellion in her city not with hope but bullets.

Issue 9

The Oracle takes one of Death’s eyeballs in payment for information on where his son is. In The Kingdom Crown Prince John Freeman puts his brother in his place (shoots half his leg off) and visits his father, The King of the oil-rich  nation. They discuss the inevitability of war and Xiaolin’s part in calling in debts that have caused LeVay now to beg them for financial assistance.

East-of-West-9-Death-Eye

Issue 10

At the Oracle’s instruction Death heads for Heetse’isi’  where Cheveyo (Wolf’s father) can be found and asked about the boy’s location. At The Beast’s Lair we discover that the three horsemen aren’t so sure Death’s son is The Great Beast and that kid knows when he’s being watched and is planning an escape. Meanwhile Cheveyo refuses to tell Death where the boy is and morphs into Nihnootheiht, just as he’s telling Death where the Lair is he’s blasted by The Ranger.

Issue 11

In New Shanghai Xiaolian prepares her people for war and goes to confront the Chosen. We learn Archibald Chamberlain has the Oracle’s other eye and that he is about to attend a meeting of the nations. And who should finally show up but the Endless Nation, the most powerful Nation of all.

endless nation

There is a lot of world building in this comic and reading each issue as it comes out can leave you a little lost. I think this is one that you can read over and over to appreciate some of the story arcs that have so far only been hinted at.

I can’t wait to find out why the Endless Nation are the most powerful, how Death’s son will escape The Lair, if indeed he is the Great Beast at all and if he isn’t then who is and which of The Chosen The Ranger will take out next…

Revival Comic Review: Vol. 1 – You’re Among Friends

revival 03

I love comics that refuse to be categorised.

What is this comic,

Horror?

Zombie?

Crime?

Revival vol. 1 – ‘You’re among friends’ seems to have a little bit of all these and is all the better for defying categorisation.

Creators Tim Seeley and Mike Norton call it a ‘rural noir’.

Which sums it up nicely.

In a small town in Wisconsin the dead have risen.

Not as decaying, brain-hungry monsters.

But very much as they were when you last saw them.

Which makes for some awkward moments.

Not least when the media show up.

The town gets put under government quarantine.

Religious zealots start talking about ‘rapture’.

And the ‘revivers’ start acting out of character.

revival 05

We are led in to the story by Dana Cypress.

She’s got a kid.

She was still a teen when she got pregnant.

Her dad never forgave her.

Now she’s Officer Cypress.

Oh, and her dad is the Sherriff.

She also takes her younger sister (Martha or ‘Em’) out on a call-out with unfortunate results.

That’s the great thing about this comic so far. It centres on family relationships and what happens to them when the stress levels go up to 11.

Everybody has secrets, untold stories and as readers we get the sense that no one is getting out of this untouched by personal tragedy.

revival 02

The artwork in this comic is traditional and keeps the story nicely grounded in reality – making the paranormal and gruesome scenes all the more spine-tingling. People look real, some are in better shape than others and there’s a realistic diversity in the town that works well.

But the thing I loved most about this comic is the very fact that the people coming back from the dead aren’t your traditional mumbling, diseased corpses out for your braaaains but seemingly unchanged loved-ones who just walk right back into their jobs and places in the family home. If the idea of that doesn’t freak you right out I’m not sure what would.

There’s also the matter of the thing in the woods…

revival 04

Which reminds me of that old Neil Hannan song, “she said, there’s something in the wood shed…”

There’s  a lot going on in this first volume and if you take a break before going on to the second volume then a re-read of this will probably be needed to get back up to speed. As it is I think I’ll read it over again just to savour some of the creepiest moments like Em’s growing attachment to the scythe…

Revival is an Image Comics publication and is available to buy on Amazon, Comixology etc. in individual editions or three collected volumes.

Chew – Revival Crossover

It was also announced in February that there would be a crossover with John Layman’s Chew. Tim Seeley said, “Chew showed us all that there was a place for quality off-kilter series, and we’re excited to have the cast of our ‘rural noir’ meet up with America’s favourite cibopath. I think we’ve figured out a great way to take advantage of the ‘WHAT THE HELL’ factor of crossing over two very different worlds that’ll make for a great read.”

And Rob Guillory Chew’s artist added, “Honestly, even I was shocked how well the two titles gelled together. It’s a really, really fun experiment that will surprise fans of both books, I think.”

There are a lot of differences in vibe, artwork and story content between the two titles but there’s lots of scope to have fun with this crossover idea. And it’s one experiment I can’t wait to read and review.

REVIVAL_CHEW01_cover_web

Usagi Drop – Part One Review

Usagi drop 4

When I decided to read Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita a Josei Comic (women’s comic) I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Certainly not something I would devour in a few days and that would change my feeling about parenting.

usagi drop 1

So what’s it about?

The story is about Daikichi, a Japanese office worker in his 30s. He’s single, selfish, drinks too much, works too much and is basically an eternal bachelor.

That is until he attends his grandfather’s funeral where he meets six-year-old Rin.

Rin is the illegitimate daughter of Daikichi’s grandfather.

So she is basically Daikichi’s aunt.

Don’t worry the family dynamics don’t get any more complicated than this.

When the family start discussing putting Rin in a foster home Daikichi gets angry at their attitude and shouts that he’ll take care of Rin if no one else will.

Of course he immediately regrets his outburst and wonders what on earth he’s gotten himself into.

usagi drop 3

But his sense of responsibility to Rin hardens his resolve to make the changes he needs to give her a secure home.

Apparently some of the events in the story come from the author’s own experience of becoming a parent and I think that grounding in reality shines through.

It’s also what kept me reading.

At one point Daikichi’s sister says that although she’s now engaged to be married she’s worried that her fiancé wants to start a family right away.

She says she’s got too many holidays to take, parties to go to and hobbies to pursue to sacrifice her life to babies.

I think most people have felt that way, whether they’d say so or not.

Usagi drop 2

There are a lot of opinions expressed in this comic about parenthood, about the sacrifices and the responsibilities that go with it (or should maybe go with it).

But the message is ultimately that although having children is a major change of lifestyle, you can adapt and ultimately it’s all worth it.

Interestingly though it also points out that some people just aren’t meant to be parents and don’t have that sense of responsibility.

It’s also pretty upfront about how hard being a single parent can be.

Usagi Drop - Movie Poster

I’d also say that I stopped reading at the end of six year old Rin’s story. The story then fast forwards 10 years and we meet high school girl Rin. Now I read ahead about where the story arc goes and I can only say ‘blerg, Japan why, oh why?’.

Some things should just be left alone and the story of Rin and Daikichi is one of them.

I would like to see the Japanese film of Usagi Drop though. Can anyone tell me if it is a good reflection of the manga?

Interview: Susan Rennie on translating Tintin into Scots

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

This week I was lucky enough to speak to Susan Rennie about her Scots translation of Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s L’Île Noire titled, Tintin and the Derk Isle.

Susan Rennie

With this translation Susan Rennie has brought new warmth and humour to this classic tale of kidnappings, counterfeiters and hairy monsters…

And I promise you won’t need a Scots dictionary to enjoy this adventure of Tintin and his faithful wee dug Tarrie!

 

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

How did translating from the French affect Tintin and the Derk Isle?

“I think it helped me to come up with a unique tone and a style for it. The English translation is brilliant but I knew this was going to be very different. It also meant I could create original character names and catch phrases. There are a few cases where the phrasing is much closer to the French than the English.”

I imagine translating the names of the characters was pretty tough?

“Yes, I had quite a bit of discussion about that. In the original Milou is a conflation of Marie-Louise. She was actually Hergé’s girlfriend. I thought about Tammie as in Tam o’ Shanter but decided on Tarrie because it’s a Scots word for terrier.

“And Nisbet and Nesbit was quite a nice one to do. It had to be a surname that is confusable because of the spelling. Every year when I’m writing Christmas cards I have to check the spelling of our friends’ surname. So yes it’s a common problem not knowing whether your friends are Nisbets or Nesbits.  It was nothing to do with Rab C Nesbit.”

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Talking of translating characters was the name Hairy Etin translated directly from the French?

“No, that is Scots. Etin is a Scots word for a giant and it comes from Old Norse. There’s a Scottish legend of the Red Etin whose colour comes from the blood of his victims. I loved that he has a rhyme too, a bit like ‘fee fie fo fum’ it goes, ‘Snowk but, snowk ben, I smell the bluid o earthly men’.”

The old man in the pub calls him an ‘Onbeast’. Where does that word come from?

“An Onbeast is a literary Scots word for a monster. In French he is just called ‘La Bête’ or ‘the beast’. I wanted to use very accessible language in this translation, but sometimes the people in the older generation like Nisbet and Nesbit speak slightly more old fashioned Scots.”

Were there any words that you couldn’t find a Scots equivalent for?

“There is an issue with how much you leave as English. But because a lot of words are shared between Scots and English it’s not really using English words as much as words that are the same.

“I tried to use Scots idioms and Scots grammatical phrasing. For example, ‘pit his gas at a peep’ (take the wind out of his sails). I had a favourite uncle who used to say that all the time so that one was kind of a tribute to him.

“Some translations into Scots can be a bit literal but unless you are using the idioms and the phrasing you miss some of the flavour of the language. So I really wanted to try to get some into this story which is very much based on dialogue.”

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

I notice that every part of this book is in Scots is that unusual?

“Well, I have to say, that’s actually down to the publisher. They are used to doing Tintin in Welsh and they always translate every part so they just naturally asked for the same thing for Scots. I don’t know if having the imprint page in Scots has ever been done before.”

Will there be any more Scots Tintin translations?

“Yes, I am working on two this year. The next one is going to be Les Cigares du pharaon. The Scots title will be The Merk o the Pharaoh.

“And then towards the end of the year it’s going to be The Partan wi the Gowden Taes which is originally Le Crabe aux pinces d’or. That’s the one when Captain Haddock is introduced so it’s going to be so much fun to translate.”

Are there any in-jokes in the translation for eagle-eyed readers?

“Yes, there are a few little things. I changed the names of the policemen at the end of the story to Murray, Craigie, Grant and Jamieson. They are four famous Scottish lexicographers. I am a lexicographer so that was a nice little thing for me to get in there.

“Also the newspaper on the final page was made to look like a generic British newspaper in the French version. We’ve changed it to The Northern Looking Glass which was a comic magazine printed in Glasgow in the 1820s. It is thought to be the world’s first published comic.”

Tintin and the Derk Isle is now published by Dalen Alba (original publication was a partnership between Taigh na Teud and Dalen Alba) and you can buy it from all good high street and online booksellers (or it is available in Edinburgh Public Libraries) and you can find lots more information on the language and characters at http://tintinscots.com.

 

Getting sentimental with Nana by Ai Yazawa

nana cover

One thing I hadn’t counted on when I started this blog was how nostalgic re-reading some comics would be.

I looked at Inuyasha a couple of weeks ago then while wandering through Forbidden Planet on Sunday my eye fell on an English translation of Nana by Ai Yazawa.

Now this manga is pretty old, I know because it came out in 2000 the year before I moved to Japan and it was just getting going then as a classic manga serial.

Nana – a cult manga in the making

The series was first published by in Japan by Cookie and ran for 22 volumes. It spawned an anime and two live action films, a PS2 and Nintendo DS game and a whole host of tribute albums and songs. It also won a raft of industry awards.

It first came out in English translation by Viz Media in 2007, which just shows you how long it can take for even the most popular Japanese manga to reach English speakers.

I have to be honest my Japanese was never really good enough  to understand every nuance of this story so although I enjoyed it at the time I was curious to pick up an English copy and re-visit it.

Turns out it was pretty much as I remembered it but now it is surrounded by a rosy glow of nostalgia, not just for those crazy, frustrating, amazing years in Japan but for my 20s in general.

A Story of two girls

Nana-Walking

The story follows two girls with the same first name: Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki.

Nana Osaki

nana O cool singer

Nana Osaki is a punk singer with a tragic past, brought up by her mean grandmother and left to fend for herself from age 16, she finds her calling in being lead singer for a local band BLAST.

She falls in love with the guitarist, Ren, who despite his own tragic past, brags about being an abandoned baby and boasts about having been in the news since birth.

Ren and Nana O live together in the warehouse district where he was found as a baby. He is her family, until that is he gets the chance to join a just signed band in Tokyo. Nana O decides not to follow him wanting to push her own career first. But two years later she sets out for Tokyo looking to hit the big time. That’s when she meets…

Nana Komatsu

nana K relationships

Now Nana Komatsu is initially the weaker character. She falls in love at the drop of a hat, follows her friends’ ambitions rather than her own and is generally a bit of a mooch. But if you’ve probably known someone who was a bit like this, or if you are honest you were a bit like this when you were 20 at times.

After failing to get into university or a community art college in Tokyo she works a job in a video shop in her home town until she’s saved enough money to follow her friends. Then she meets her namesake and of course gets a total girl crush on Nana O.

The beauty of these two characters is that they are a little like John Lennon and Paul McCartney – you are either going to be drawn towards the nice one or the rebel but in reality there are aspects of both in everybody.

What else can reading Nana offer?

I would say though that Nana also provides some nice insights into Japanese life and how essentially young Japanese people are on an inexorable trajectory towards becoming their parents.

For example

The teenage punk bank BLAST has just come off stage – adrenaline pumping from their gig.

What do they do?

Get drunk or high and blow off steam by being anti-social and flipping off society?

No way, they politely go to an Izakaya for dinner, carefully observing Japanese custom by removing their heavy duty punk boots and lining them up before sitting at floor level tables on tatami mats.

Not very punk behaviour from a western point of view

nana O izakaya

But it is realistic

Young people in Japan in general just don’t do anarchy. Having spent two years teaching 14 to 16 year olds in a Japanese High School I can tell you they are the least obviously hormonal, rebellious or obnoxious kids you can imagine.

Of course though there are rough schools and kids that get into motorbike gangs.

It’s not Disneyland

Japan suffers its fair share of social problems that affect young people and lead them to try to find belonging and a sense of identity apart from the mainstream.

But for the most part making other people feel uncomfortable through your behaviour is just ingrained in their DNA as being completely unacceptable.

So who should try reading Nana?

This is a great manga for anyone interested in what life is like for young people in Japan (in the context of a fictionalised storyline of course but it is very much grounded in reality).

Or if you are in your 20s and you’re still struggling with finding yourself and your soul mate and you want a comic that reflects those issues.

Or if you’re in your teens and you want to see what’s waiting for you 😉

Or if those days are past – it’s still fun to look back

I enjoyed finding unlikely parallels between a Japanese 20 year old trying to make her way in Tokyo as a punk band singer and a Scottish girl once in her 20s trying to teach English in Japan and wondering where that road would lead.

East of West Vol 1: The Promise – Apocalyptic sci-western goodness

east_of_west

 

There are so many comics out there.

So many.

It’s hard to know where the next great story is hiding.

Often I look at the cover art as an indication of what the story is about and if it’s worth investigating.

I scanned past the cover art above at least half a dozen times.

Then someone said, “you haven’t read this yet??”

And I took another look.

Turns out you should never judge a book by its cover.

comics-east-of-west-artwork-2

 

First off credit where credit is due.

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Nick Dragotta

Colours: Frank Martin

Letters: Rus Wooton

Publisher: Image Comics

You can read this in individual editions – there are currently 10 issues in total but I’d recommend starting off with Vol One: The Promise which collects the first five editions.

There’s a lot going on here and you’ll need at least the first five to see whether or not you’re going to like this.

If you love comics as much for the drawing and colours as for the writing then you are going to love Nick Dragotta’s artwork.

I haven’t dabbled in drawing let alone drawing comics for years but this made me itch to get out an inky pen and some good quality cartridge paper. It’s inspirational, tactile, beautiful and very, very clever.

Each frame is cinematic, epic in scale, considered, original and flows so beautifully.

east_of_west2

Oh and Death is riding an awesome cannon horse.

The whole thing is just the right mix of the familiar but with an original spin.

So let’s get the basics down.

You know the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Well, this is a story about them.

But not just about them.

It’s about The Chosen.

They are the leaders of the seven Nations of America created after the Third Great Awakening at the time of the Civil War in 1862.

They’ve heard The Message.

And it says the world is coming to an end.

And they, along with the three horsemen (yeah, Death isn’t totally on-board with this plan) are intent on making sure the prophecy comes to fruition.

But Death got a little caught up in the mortal world.

Got married.

Decided he wasn’t ready to go along with the prophecy just yet.

And so the story goes on a roller-coaster ride of killing, destruction and dodging the dalliances of fate.

But at it’s heart this is a love story.

And that’s what made me care about this motley crew of characters.

It’s not just about grand, sweeping story arcs.

There’s some nicely explored human emotions in here too.

It’s not the first time a fictional Death has fallen in love (see Pretty Deadly for a totally different take on some similar themes) but it could be the first time he’s willing to betray everything he is supposed to be for the daughter of a Chinese warlord.

Read and enjoy!

east-of-west-3-image-comics