Finally getting into manga (discussion/reviews)

'Cause I've been postin' and laughin' so long
That even my momma thinks that my mind is gone

Postby HotFingersClub » Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:48 pm

Totally correct about "She Got Off the Bus at the Peninsula" as well - the only story I remember even slightly from that collection
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Postby sevenarts » Mon Feb 22, 2021 5:22 pm

I (thankfully) never stumbled across "When All's Said and Done" when I had my first big Kago phase, but I distinctly remember reading the big formalist stories and being blown away and immediately downloading everything else I could find, and so much of the rest was very straightforward scat-themed torture porn which was quite the shock. I could barely even look at the page for "When All's Said and Done" which is not an experience I remember EVER having before. Can't remember the last time I was so viscerally disgusted by anything.

Waters and Mushishi are probably about even to me. I haven't read any Igarashi yet (he's on my upcoming list) but I appreciate that Mushishi is kind of a low-key mood piece with not a lot of pyrotechnics. Urushibara's work is very calming in general, nothing flashy but this lovely understated mood that sometimes shades a little sadder, sometimes more bittersweet, but hangs over everything like a fog. Truly the definition of balm.
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Postby HotFingersClub » Tue Feb 23, 2021 12:35 pm

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Yuichi Yokoyama - Plaza
Well that was totally crazy. Yokoyama’s latest work, still unavailable outside Japan, is an exhausting, fantastic ordeal that took me a week to read, battering me into submission every night before bed. The stillness and the calmness and the patient exploration of shape and form that I usually expect with his work has been entirely replaced with an intense carnival. The entire book is a parade of the most unbelievable complexity across a single stage. Mechanisms, people, objects and animals march relentlessly for well over 230 pages.

Part of the dizzying pace of this work is Yokoyama’s refusal to stop and dwell on any single image. Of all the hundreds of amazing things he shows us, none of them are given so much as a panel to themselves – the composition always frames two or three stimuli at once in different stages of movement; each new thing is shoved off the stage by the next thing in the same panel it’s introduced.

It’s a fascinating book in a number of ways. Sevenarts rightly points out the unmistakable scent of the military and iconography that borders on the fascistic, although it’s interesting the degree to which synchronized movement alone creates a martial impression. The threat of violence is regular and dissipates as soon as it arrives, like everything in this book. Certain patterns seem full of meaning – I noticed several instances in which the sight of precious gems caused the audience to rush the stage, only to immediately flee in terror when the parade retaliates with overwhelming force.

Stop me if this is an overly simplistic interpretation, but the sensation of this book strongly reminded me of my experience of Twitter and social media timelines in general. The book is an exhausting doomscroll juxtaposing atrocities with cute novelties. Just like on my phone, there’s always at least three things happening in the frame, and the audience celebrate, are entertained, are terrorized, but no response lasts any longer than the stimulus that causes it. When the audience run at the precious gems they see on stage and then get chased away with overwhelming violence, I started feeling like Plaza was basically a one to one mirror of digital spectacle in the 2020s.

Meanwhile, just on a visual level, Yokoyama is breaking further boundaries. It’s busier than any of his other work by an order of magnitude, and the confusion surges up in waves, gradually becoming more powerful towards the end of the book. You don’t really notice it happening , but can look back at the early pages and see how easy they were to parse compared to the vibrating tangle of lines and effects in the back half of the book. More and more, I got the sense that the physical objects in the book were providing backup to the sound effects, speed lines and motion effects which formed the real substance of the composition. It felt revolutionary to me.

It’s maybe not the easiest of his books to love, but that is sometimes the case with formalist masterpieces. What it is, I think, is his biggest single leap forwards since he started doing what he does. A shot of adrenaline straight to the heart of comics.
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Postby HotFingersClub » Tue Feb 23, 2021 12:38 pm

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Kamui Fujiwara - Dr. Kant and the Creation of the Universe
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, back to stuff that isn’t making me lose my mind. This is an oddity, a story published in 1984 that reminded me of the proggy alternative comics scene of the 70s. In this, the titular Dr. Kant, looking like Ringo Starr in a bowler hat, goes drifting on a symbolic journey through a constantly shifting landscape in which nothing means anything. Just on a pictures level it’s nice work, but imo you pretty much need to be Moebius if you’re going to pull this off, and Fujiwara is not quite on that level.
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Postby HotFingersClub » Tue Feb 23, 2021 1:23 pm

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Takashi Shimada & Yoshinori Nakai - Kinnikuman
This is fun: a parody of Ultraman from the late 70s that became a hugely popular franchise in its own right. There’s not much point delving into the plot mechanics but it’s a good time for all concerned – antic cartoon craziness for all ages like the Beano and the Dandy, but actually good, with an absurdist sense of humour that’s stood the test of time remarkably well. The One Punch Man of its day you might say. Kinnikuman kind of vacillates between a luchador, an everyman and an alien superbeing, adding a bunch of goofy new elements in every new story. In early issues he borrows his origin from Superman – Kinnikuman was sent to Earth from his parent’s spaceship as a baby when his parents found a pig on him in his cot and accidentally blasted the baby out of the airlock instead of the pig. The pig then goes on to become a General Zod character for Planet Kinniku. It’s good stuff!
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Postby HotFingersClub » Tue Feb 23, 2021 1:27 pm

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Naoki Yamamoto - Believers
This 2 volume series is a steamy psychosexual thriller, which is usually a big red flag when it comes to manga, but I think Yamamoto does a creditable job here. On a small, otherwise uninhabited island, three members of a modern cult – two men and a woman – pass the days in pursuit of purity, waiting for a signal from their unseen leader while they gradually begin to question what’s real. United by a shared purpose and struggling to feed themselves, it’s a harmonious existence at first, but sexual tensions start to come to the fore as the two junior members find themselves drawn to one another. “The sex and nudity is used intellectually” according to the author of the Wikipedia page, which seems like protesting too much, but despite the slightly porny explicitness of the imagery there’s definitely something of substance happening here as well. It’s sensitively done, based around characters that have a bit of dimensionality and approach each other tentatively, in a way that feels real and honest. It’s also fully tied in to the theme of these poor saps, oppressed by religious authority, struggling with subconscious urges. The sexual frustration experienced by the two characters in their hesitant romance is paralleled by the narrative’s complimentary strands, in which they attempt to subsist on the meager food rations sent to them by the cult, and are frequently disturbed by nightmares and strange impulses that they can’t square with the requirements of purity. It’s all about the subconsciousness asserting itself against this weird form of oppression, but Yamamoto keeps finding interesting twists in the plot and new ways to dramatise his themes, preventing it from becoming too much of an interior odyssey. This was surprisingly compelling, worth checking out.
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Postby HotFingersClub » Tue Feb 23, 2021 1:30 pm

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Masayuki Kusumi & Jiro Taniguchi - The Solitary Gourmet
An ode to the pleasures of dining alone, this was not written by Taniguchi but retains a lot of the flavour and appeal of The Walking Man, probably moreso than any other Taniguchi work I’ve read. Brief, ten-page episodes follow the anonymous diner, not a conscious gourmet, just a small business owner with a melancholy temperament who keeps finding himself lost and hungry in unfamiliar parts of Tokyo. At best he’ll find a friendly neighbourhood restaurant with good food, but often he’ll just end up with a sandwich in the park or a supermarket meal deal eaten alone at his desk. One episode is actually about hospital food, which I was astonished to learn is apparently very good in Japan, and something that people actively look forward to when they’re going into hospital. It’s nice to still be learning new things about Japan after all these years.

Through these episodes, Kusumi and Taniguchi meditate on memory, solitude, the social experience of restaurants, and food above all else. The Gourmet is a surprisingly mercurial protagonist compared to the serene Walking Man – he’s often frustrated and disappointed with his experiences, or wrestling unsuccessfully with his odd preconceptions. It’s interesting how often he mentions he doesn’t drink, and how that prevents him from enjoying himself at restaurants, or how often he orders something from a menu only to be told they’ve run out or haven’t started serving it yet. The book seems just as interested in the annoyances of food as its pleasures. His preconceptions often serve to hurt him – he’s forever ordering the wrong dish, or passing over good restaurants because he’s scared of going inside. At one point he goes hungry because he doesn’t think a single man should go on his own to a cake shop. Despite all those strange and relatable personal failings, he usually finds a moment just to be present and take in his surroundings, and savour the taste of what he’s eating whether he’s enjoying himself or not. In its own way it’s a great reminder to stop and take stock, an emotionally complex but soothing meditation on the mindful qualities of food. I really enjoyed it.
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Postby HotFingersClub » Tue Feb 23, 2021 1:33 pm

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Kazuichi Hanawa - Early Works
Hanawa was a really exciting discovery for me from the Comics Underground Japan anthology. His story “Mercy Flesh” was an incredibly intricate and bizarre tale of a young girl locked in a cage with two stinking, bestial Buddhas. He would later be arrested for possessing firearms and would write a popular prison memoir.

This collection of early stories is classic 70s ero-guro of the highest quality, similar to what Maruo was doing at the time, although I think Hanawa was already operating at a very high level in the 70s, while Maruo didn’t hit his stride until a while after. If anything, he’s probably a missing link between Maruo and Umezu, and many of these stories could have been written by any one of them, brimming as they are with sexual sadism, outrageous twists and freaks locked in basements. Like those two authors, Hanawa’s faces are characterised by a similar queasy beauty, with tiny pursed lips and huge cruel eyes heavy with shadow. The beauty and eroticism is very much hand in glove with the horror. “The Red and the Night” is a good example, flirting with classical Japanese illustration in its story of a psychopathic samurai and the wife who tries to restrain him. Every panel is posed like an erotic dance; the image of the samurai showing off his smooth pale legs streaked in blood is unmistakeably sexual.

A heavy gothic corruption hangs in the air. As usual with ero-guro stories, it’s always young women being persecuted by sadistic madmen and freaks, but no one is entirely innocent here – the women are always hiding a dark secret of their own which in some obscure way got them into this mess. Having said that, the plotting is often charmingly undisciplined in a way that accentuates its dreamlike atmosphere. Hanawa might introduce a detective character and then forget to do anything with him, or bring the story to a crashing halt with a brief apology for running out of pages.

As fun and operatic as the violence is in his stories of sadism, you can see the moments where Hanawa really comes into his own, usually the moments where the strangeness shines through in a way that Umezu and even Maruo would probably not allow. It’s in those moments that the horror is most effective. The five-page story “The Cat Came Back” was one of the most enigmatic but disturbing of all, featuring a nun slowly dying in a remote monastery. The horror beat on the final page made no sense that I could understand but sent a genuine shiver up my spine – not gory at all but inexplicably chilling. In other stories there’s an intersection between ero-guro horror and the kind of b-movie scifi that spawned Mars Attacks, such as in the final story, which starts off as an edo-period ghost story before the girl gets shrunk down and sucked into an anthill. That’s a good example of one that leverages its weirdness, as the girl becomes a frightening sexual predator to the chaste and virginal ant monster.

I’ve already gone on a while, but just wanted to shout out Hanawa’s art, which is absolutely stunning, with the detail and opulence of Maruo combined with a rich, gothic darkness. Throughout the book he occasionally breaks for these incredible double page spreads, filled with such texture and detail I’d say it’s the equivalent of those insane Bernie Wrightson Frankenstein pages. In a section near the end called “Japanese Monster Stories,” he adds red to the otherwise monochrome palette for a series of intensely gory and detailed drawings. It’s a real grand guignol, very strong stuff indeed. Although the more basic ero-guro stuff doesn’t always sing to quite the same extent, this is still a brilliant collection from an underrated master. If you’re a fan of Maruo and Umezu, you should get on it without delay.
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Postby sevenarts » Tue Feb 23, 2021 7:08 pm

What a batch, great reviews! I love to see you grappling with Plaza, it really does feel like an extension and progression from the "noisier" work Yokoyama has been doing in recent years, now pushing the style towards total sensory overload. It's such a dense, clattering work, almost impossible to take everything in. I think there's definitely something to your reading of it as a response to the overwhelming sensations of modern society and modern technology. I always hesitate to lean too hard on the political/sociological elements of Yokoyama's work, since he seems to resist such interpretations himself, but to me his work has often resonated with ideas about surveillance, modernization, and war, even though he obviously never makes anything like an explicit statement in anything he's done. Especially as his work has gotten "noisier," there's been a lot of violence and aggression in his comics; they seem increasingly in-your-face compared to the tranquility and measured study of light effects that I feel more forcefully in a lot of his earlier works like Travel. There's such a sense of menace in the abstracted genre books like Iceland and Outdoors, and as goofy as a lot of this is the sinister overtones also seem to reach their peak here. It almost feels like Yokoyama is rejecting the more meditative beauty of his own earlier, more purely visual works, smothering the images in sound effects and text instead.

That Hanawa book looks and sounds completely up my alley, wow.

I've also been enjoying your Taniguchi writings lately and have downloaded a bunch myself. That definitely sounds the most in line with The Walking Man's sensibility of anything I've seen from him. I'm kinda most curious about his noir books but we'll see.
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Postby sevenarts » Sun Feb 28, 2021 2:45 pm

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Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike & Kazuo Kamimura
My first exposure to famed manga writer Koike, through one of his signature series, this blood-soaked, trashy sexploitation saga about a hitwoman seeking vengeance in Meiji-era Japan. It's pretty fun stuff, provided you have decent tolerance for sleaze, since there's just as much sex and nudity as there is violence here. Indeed, the hitwoman main character Yuki, trained practically since birth to exact vengeance against those who killed her father and brutalized her mother, often winds up fighting completely naked, ending with blood splattered all over her bare skin. The story is episodic, with most chapters detailing standalone assassination quests. Koike has a lot of fun both coming up with creative ways for Yuki to dispatch her targets - though she's a brilliant swordswoman she often kills indirectly, with clever machinations - and to work in the inevitable titillation factor. There's obviously a reason he's considered such a genre master, and he does a great job at dispensing these briskly paced, visceral thriller plots while also advancing the larger vengeance plot in the background. The real joy though is Kamimura's art; the artist died relatively young and didn't leave behind a huge catalogue, but he's really phenomenal here, with a gorgeous high-contrast style and a noirish sensibility for skewed, odd-angled compositions. He completely sells whatever Koike's up to in any given scene, whether it's a complex action sequence, a stylishly sexy bedroom set piece, or a bit of oddball comedy (as in the memorable character of the eccentric wandering writer who shows up in later installments). Justifiably a classic.

I also read the 30-years-later sequel with Ryoichi Ikegami standing in for Kamimura, and though I was excited to see what Ikegami could do with this material it's really disappointing. As good as Ikegami is, his somewhat stiff, samey figures and faces can't help but feel like a downgrade from the original artist's dynamism. Koike also gives him almost nothing actually fun to work with; a surprising amount of the length is dedicated to a painfully dull story about a Buddhist nun that mostly provides Koike an excuse to do some history/religion lessons.

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Fat by Kazuo Ogatsu
I agree with HFC that this is a strong and promising short, and it's unfortunate that the rest of the author's work isn't translated because I'd love to see if he followed through on that promise at all. The central image of an amorphous blob sexually assaulting a man in his sleep each night is creepy as hell, rendered really gross and upsetting by Ogatsu's art. Stylistically I feel like he combines elements of many other genre artists (Urasawa, Umezu, Ito, but with a somewhat sketchier edge) but he hits on some really distinctive horrifying compositions. Just an intense little psychosexual horror piece and I definitely enjoyed it.

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Hanaotoko by Taiyo Matsumoto
Here's a lesser known early Matsumoto work, sandwiched neatly in between Zero and Ping Pong, and also kind of a sports manga though with little enough actual sports action as it focuses more on comedic slice of life vignettes. It's about Shigeo, a studious but isolated young boy whose mother sends him to live for a time with his overgrown man-child father Hanao, an absurd lout who left his family years before to focus on his seemingly unlikely dream of playing baseball for his favorite team, the Yomiuri Giants. As father and son get to know each other, Shigeo winds up in the fatherly role for the irresponsible Hanao, while Hanao's infectious energy gets Shigeo to loosen up, shift his priorities, and enjoy his life more.

One's appreciation of all this requires an ability to look past just how shitty a dude Hanao would be in reality, and for me the story periodically crashes off the rails whenever Matsumoto tries to clumsily engage with Hanao's thoughtlessness, or when the mother pops back up oozing sympathy and understanding for her dumbass ex. The story's just not set up to deal with reality, so it's best enjoyed as this manic celebration of simply having fun, and at that it absolutely excels. Matsumoto's art is a slightly more raw form of the style he'd perfect in Tekkonkinkreet, all wobbly, distorted backgrounds and jarring closeup angles, with tons of whimsical details crammed into every frame, like the kappa and farm animals and rocketships that appear randomly in the backgrounds. The style is completely over-the-top: everyone's always shouting and gesticulating and issuing melodramatic ultimatums, and when there's a baseball game the action is elastic, with the bat seeming to bend as it swings and the ball squishing wildly out of shape whenever the wood makes contact. It's an exercise in pure style, and it's probably best to take Hanao's philosophy to heart a bit and just ride with it; by the end the enthusiasm was fully infectious, and whatever misgivings might've cropped up throughout fade away in the catharsis of a home run ball soaring off on a trip around the world.

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Palepoli / Short Cuts by Usamaru Furuya
HFC has been doing an ongoing deep dive on Furuya here, so I figured it was finally time to take a look myself; I'd previously only read bits of his most famous series Short Cuts. Palepoli was Furuya's debut work, a four-panel "gag" manga published in Garo, though Furuya really earns those scare quotes around "gag" with his deconstructive approach to the format. Furuya came to comics from a fine art background, as a sculptor, painter, and dancer, and his debut comic wreaks havoc with the constricting four-panel form. Drawing on references to both art history and Japanese pop culture, his work is meta and often studiously refuses to deliver a joke. At times, the lack of a recognizable gag seems to be because the joke is just untranslatable - Furuya is clearly very fond of linguistic word games that rely on the original kanji to deliver subtle shadings of overlapping meanings - or because there's a very topical '90s Japanese cultural reference, but at other times the lack of a punchline seems itself to be the joke. Furuya returns repeatedly to the same setups and images, twisting them in unexpected directions with each installment, but he's just as likely to end on a bloody shock or a non-sequitur as he is on an actual joke, translatable or not. Some of the more referential strips remind me a bit of Gary Panter, of all people, and indeed Furuya is coming from a similar kind of underground art nerd perspective, blending famous paintings, characters from other manga, Japanese TV detectives, and his own recurring characters/situations into this totally unpredictable alien landscape. Like Panter, Furuya isn't above telling some real jokes too but the main point seems to be that combinatory effect, the frisson of seeing these tropes and images crash against each other in startling ways. Great, totally wild and original stuff, I loved this even when I didn't fully get it.

Short Cuts was Furuya's parallel more commercial series from around the same time, made for a much more mainstream magazine. This is also a gag manga though a much less formally oriented one, instead delivering a series of goofy 1-2 page riffs on Japanese culture's fetishization of the high school girl. There are still occasional untranslatable gags here, and others that require copious footnotes to catch all the references, but this is much more conventionally funny and understandable, playfully poking fun at various Japanese stereotypes. Furuya doesn't get to display quite as wide of a range here, either artistically or thematically, locked as he is on all the cute girls in short skirts and creepy bald old men. He does gradually loosen up though. As the series goes on it gets more meta, with the author inserting himself as a cute little bunny, and parodying other manga just as in Palepoli. The formula also stretches and gets weirder. Furuya's increasingly deranged iteration on a fairly simple theme marks this as one more obvious influence on Shintaro Kago. Probably my favorite thing about the later installments are the ones where things unexpectedly get somber and contemplative, as in the strip where two vapid schoolgirls abruptly break their usual patter to discuss their deeper feelings, and Furuya's art grows scratchier and more shaded in response. Mostly though this is just a fun and odd couple of volumes of fast-paced gags.
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Postby jca » Sun Feb 28, 2021 8:34 pm

i looove lady snowblood. the buildup to a kill is always so cool. great writeups
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Postby HotFingersClub » Mon Mar 01, 2021 6:03 am

Great stuff, looks like I have to get into Lady Snowblood.

Really exciting to see you tackling Furuya, who's always struck me as a uniquely complex and multi-faceted artist who needs more attention than I can give him. Those two books are really the essential works. Especially Palepoli where he proves that he can do everything at once, before settling down and just doing one mad thing at a time for the bulk of his career.

It's also worth pointing out the sheer virtuosity: I only got the joke about 50% of the time in Palepoli but I was consistently in awe at his ability to switch artistic styles and tones and play with the form. Just on a visual level that book is one of the most impressive artistic feats I've ever seen. I'd love to see it in better quality than the online scans
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Postby sevenarts » Mon Mar 01, 2021 10:59 am

IIRC you compared his range of styles to Tommi Musturi, and that's totally spot-on and basically the only artist I can think of who can similarly work across such a huge range. Very impressive for sure. I'm excited to explore Furuya further though looking at some of his later work I'm surprised by how much of it looks like comparatively "normal" narrative manga.
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Postby HotFingersClub » Mon Mar 01, 2021 1:24 pm

Yeah, I'm not a Furuya completist yet but most of the later stuff I've read is much more mainstream and sadly not as interesting, although there's plenty of weird stuff going on in the margins. Ranking the Furuya I've read:

Palepoli
Short Cuts
Garden
Suicide Club
Innocents
Wsamarus 2001
Genkaku Picasso
51 Ways to Save Her
Happiness
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Postby sevenarts » Fri Mar 05, 2021 2:40 am

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Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida
This was recommended way back on the first page of this thread, and I'm just now catching up on it. Maybe it's just me but this is quite different from what I expected. Hayashida started her career as an assistant on Blame!, and based on that and what I'd seen of her art I was expecting 23 volumes of similarly austere grimdark sci-fi, which was certainly both a daunting and exciting prospect. Instead, this is by turns a goofy lite-fantasy hangout, grimy body horror, a visceral action manga, and an oddball comedy. Plus plenty of cheesecakey "fan service" tossed in. Tonally, it's all over the damn place, but it holds together thanks to the strength of Hayashida's scratchy, ink-splattered art and her knack for establishing a huge cast of distinctive characters and having them crash against one another, both violently and comedically, in many different combinations over the course of the book, all against the backdrop of an increasingly complex fantasy plot.

Like any manga this long there are some aimless stretches, and at times the tone gets a little too goofy for my tastes, but for the most part this is just a blast. Hayashida is great at juggling the increasingly unwieldy cast and building up this enormous world. The plot zigzags among many different locations, as the characters zip between the dreary, post-apocalyptic human world ("the Hole"), a parallel dimension populated with sorcerers, a Dante-esque Hell ruled over by whimsical devils who only care about having fun, and various metaphysical and purely mental constructs. Hayashida's art is fantastic - scratchy and dark, often a little on the sketchy side, but able to capture a surprising variety of tones. When she goes all in on the horror vibe it's genuinely eerie and unsettling, especially when she's mining the story's rich veins of body horror, including the transformation between states - the main character, at least at first, is a guy with a lizard head, a victim of a magic spell who's trying to figure out what happened to him and how to turn back. Hayashida smears the page with splotchy, inky blood and darkness, because transformation is always messy and explosive in this book. These sections are juxtaposed against an equally assured feel for action, with some very fun fight scenes that make consistently inventive use of the huge array of magical powers Hayashida has thought up here. The magic is really interesting, with its own set of very involved rules behind it, and it never falls into the "shooting beams at each other" cliches of so much magical combat. Instead, the characters make mushrooms grow inside bodies, slice each other up into still-living cross-sections, turn their enemies into meat pies, or create doll-like doppelgangers using elaborate rituals, to name a few examples.

The comedy is a bit more hit-and-miss, perhaps unsurprisingly, but Hayashida also has a good feel for physical humor, with a keen sense of comic timing - she's at her best when the humor is visual, conveyed through body language and the rhythm of panels rather than in the dialogue itself. This is an outrageous and very weird series, continually escalating the stakes and delivering one ridiculous or grotesque image after another. Hayashida delivers all the basic genre thrills while retaining this core of absurdity and oddity that keeps it from ever settling into familiarity.
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Postby HotFingersClub » Fri Mar 05, 2021 4:59 am

Wow, that sounds right up my street. Love a tonal mishmash, love something that's slightly too goofy, also enjoy all of the objectively good qualities listed. I saw some cool screens of the Dorohedoro anime in the anime thread and was thinking I should get round to watching it, but the manga sounds even more my speed
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Postby jca » Sun Mar 07, 2021 7:22 pm

ive been enjoying the first few volumes of dorohedoro but got side tracked. really liked the characters and worldbuilding. did you end up finishing it? i heard the plot switches up around volume 7
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Postby sevenarts » Sun Mar 07, 2021 8:46 pm

Yeah I binged through it all. It continually and gradually expands beyond its initial premise, and then there are a couple more definitive breaks (one about halfway through) where the core of the story seems to completely shift. A few weaker stretches aside it pretty much kept me interested throughout, like you say the characters and worldbuilding are so engaging.
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Postby jca » Tue Mar 09, 2021 9:46 pm

the last few months ive been going thru Shinichi Sakamoto's manga. quick bio: he created a few minor works before partnering with writer Yoshiro Nabeda on a manga called Kokou no Hito (The Climber) | 2017 | 17 vol, which is based on a novel about a real mountain-climber. Nabeda left by the 4th volume and Sakamoto took over the writing while still producing the art. the focus changed from a traditional sports manga into a more psychological one. Following Kokou no Hito's success, Sakamoto began Innocent | 2013 | 9 vol and its sequel Innocent Rogue, a historical drama based on real life french executioner Charles-Henri Sanson. Currently, he's working on a manga based on Dracula called #DRCL Midnight Children (lol).



Theres a cool profile here where he talks about composing manga digitally with several other artists, how they all work together on one panel for instance, and explains a few parts of his process I like and dislike. it looks like there is a ton of research that goes into the work, and the end result has these really grand scenes of buildings, with really minute details. Like the detailed landscape, interiors, clothing in Innocent is totally wild. but then there are scenes of a bald character being worked on, with layers of hairstyle options on the right to drag over. Its kind of strange to see something produced this way, while Miura is taking months to hand draw panels, but the end result is just so wild to look at that maybe it doesnt matter what the drawing method is. the video also mentions Sakamoto's use of metaphor for impact or feeling. He mentions that he doesnt use onomatopoeia, but instead uses cut-aways to familiar images to ground the reader (a crashing building during an avalanche). In Innocence, executions are shown as exploding pomegranates or blades reverberating off the surface of the statue of Atlas.

I haven't read everything (I finished Innocent, am halfway through The Climber, and just started Rogue and Dracula, but i think I've got a good handle of Sakamoto's work and style. part of me thinks he's like an amazing thinker, and the way he uses metaphor to convey feeling is some of the best ive seen. he's a really good storyteller and gives a unique view of the characters internal thinking. i think if he was just a great illustrator, his work would be gimmicky and pinterest-y, but thats not the case.

Innocent follows the rise of Charles-Henri Sanson as the head of the Sanson Family and official executioner of 18th century Paris. This manga is so so so dramatic, with Sanson having to kill people he loves and respects, trying to form some kind of moral compass against the fatalism of his duty. His younger sister Marie-Joseph shows a knack for torture at a young age, and shes an interesting character too. The story gets a little soap opera-y with lesbian marriage and duels, but its still entertaining. The art here is crisper than it is in the Climber, and there is kind of an uncanny effect going on, and all i can really use to describe it is pretty to look at. But yeah, I dug the story and the setting

The climber is still a drama dealing with a characters internal struggle, but its much more...isolated? Like most of the manga is Mori climbing increasingly dangerouns mountains while examining his inner thoughts. And these are illustrated in a neat way..since Mori is such an introvert, we get to literally see whats going through his head. Theres a scene early on with Mori struggling to talk to a coworker, and we see him imagining himself scribbling possible answer on a piece of paper. During his climbs, theres all kinds of exaggerated stand ins for the obstacles on a mountain, like the crashing buildings or an impossibly high chain link fence with a small hole promising a way to the other side. I really enjoyed these moments--theyre super inventive. the work is super focused and exciting, and the artwork is filled with the spreads of mountain vistas, sunrises, absolute darkness, cramped tunnels.

So yeah, i like Sakamoto and how he tells stories. There aren't any philosophical text dumps like in Homunculous for example, its 9/10 a metaphor for how the characters feeling. few panels I liked:
Image Image Image Image
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Postby sevenarts » Tue Mar 09, 2021 11:52 pm

Wow great writeup jca, that stuff looks and sounds so cool. I always love when comics attempt to engage with internality because superficially you'd think the medium is so ill-suited to it and yet artists have come up with some amazing ways to deal with it. I'm repeatedly blown away by how expansive manga is - you guys are constantly posting about creators I've never even heard of before and there's just such a wide range of stuff to read.

I'm assuming the blood-splattered sword girl is from Innocent? Looks like that's the one for me to start with though goth-hashtag Dracula sounds like it'll be fun too.
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Postby jca » Wed Mar 10, 2021 12:49 am

sevenarts wrote:I'm assuming the blood-splattered sword girl is from Innocent? Looks like that's the one for me to start with though goth-hashtag Dracula sounds like it'll be fun too.

yup thats Marie-Joseph. and yeah i think innocent would be up your alley 8-)
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Postby HotFingersClub » Wed Mar 10, 2021 4:03 am

Yeah thank you man, I had the same thought re: manga is just so big, it feels like coming to cinema for the first time as an adult, and there are all these big budget blockbusters that I've never even heard of. I'll definitely look into Innocent as well - looks really interesting and shiny
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Postby sevenarts » Thu Mar 11, 2021 6:56 pm

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Die Wergelder by Hiroaki Samura
Ever since being blown away by Blade of the Immortal, I've periodically tried other Samura books in the hopes of finding similar pleasures, and always leave disappointed. Not so here, with one of Samura's current ongoing series, an over-the-top genre thrill ride that makes excellent use of the artist's obvious delight for drawing badass hot women in brutal action scenes. Samura mashes up genres with glee here, heavily mining the tone of '70s action B-movies, sexploitation, and acrobatic kung-fu flicks. Over the course of 4 volumes to date (condensed into 2 big omnibi for the west), Samura spins out a yakuza thriller that keeps getting more and more complex, though it's easy enough to gloss over the details of the competing factions and just enjoy the gonzo 50-page martial arts fights and the multitude of clashing genre tropes. Beyond the visceral action and Samura's sleek, stunning drawing, it's also a never-ending fount of wacky quasi-sci-fi concepts, from the cyborg mermaid sex worker to the hitwoman whose prosthetic hand can catch bullets to the creepy pharmaceutical corporation that's shipping around cases of human fetuses. Not nearly as overall potent as Blade but this is good trashy fun.

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H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness by Gou Tanabe
Tanabe's Lovecraft adaptations have been well-covered in this thread previously, so between that and having read a bunch of both actual Lovecraft and comics inspired by him, I figured I knew what I was in for here, but still this exceeded expectations. HFC captured the special quality of Tanabe's art, which is incredibly detailed and stunningly beautiful, and yet so infused with deep black shadows that it's difficult to tell precisely what one is seeing. The ineffable vibe starts even from Tanabe's depictions of the black, sinister mountain ranges that an Antarctic scientific expedition discovers at the start of their journey into horror. Tanabe's stone peaks seem full of leering faces and sinewy misshapen bodies, as well as wonderfully capturing the uncanny effect by which what at first seems like natural mountain ranges with odd shapes soon give way to the realization that the scientists have stumbled across the ruins of an impossibly ancient and alien civilization deep in the glacial wastes, and that these shapes were carved by alien limbs, not worn naturally over time. Once the story starts delving into the real nature of what's being uncovered here, Tanabe really gets to cut loose, and his art perfectly evokes the mingled horror, mystery, awe, and eerie inhuman beauty of this ancient alien race being excavated from the ice.

The art is so good indeed that it's easy to overlook what a clever, elegant adaptation this is in other ways. Tanabe is faithful to the tone and the general story of Lovecraft's work, and at times the literal text, but he also expands upon it, drastically alters its structure and form, and in many ways makes it much more visceral and affecting than the original work. Crucially, he shifts away from the limited perspective of the original novella as a rather clinically written after-the-fact account of one of the expedition's survivors, expanding to take in other perspectives and placing the action much more in the present-tense moment. He also greatly unpacks the original, often expanding what might have been a single sentence into a full-fledged scene. The effect is to slow down and really linger in the mood of dread, not in the plodding way that Lovecraft's prose can often have, but a piercingly intense focus on each incremental step towards the inevitable confrontation with primal horrors.

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Cocoon by Kyo Machiko
HFC previously wrote about this one very eloquently, and I don't have much to add other than I agree it's really fascinating and unique. It's a WW2 story set on Okinawa, where Japanese schoolgirls are enlisted as amateur nurses, treating wounded soldiers in ramshackle cave hospitals even as constant air raids rain violence down upon them. In many ways the approach is quite simple and manipulative, banking on the extreme disconnect between Machiko's cute, appealing style and the brutality that she depicts, but it's very effective. Machiko's adorable cartoon figures, filled in with soft watery shading, evoke such tranquility and cheer that the book's horrors continually snuck up on me even though I knew, broadly, what to expect. It winds up being a really potent and difficult-to-shake document of war, nationalism, and abuse. The superficially idyllic aesthetic resonates affectingly with the way these brainwashed girls parrot back, with forced cheer, the lines about duty and country that have obviously been drilled into them. A truly bracing, challenging work.

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U by Kyo Machiko
Machiko's warm aesthetic also turns out to be a surprisingly effective vehicle for intense psychological sci-fi/horror. This story of a lab assistant and her clone starts out charming and light-hearted, but gradually - then explosively - pivots into far darker territory as the clones start to wonder why they need their originals hanging around. Machiko initially pitches this as a light office comedy with romantic subplots and cutesy little gags about twins, but even from the start there are enough subtly disquieting elements that the turn to darkness, in an almost hilariously gross central scene, would be expected even without familiarity with the author. The details of the clones themselves are memorably weird, nonsensical, and disgusting: they're on a 12-hour timer, after which they turn into melting blobs with only their tongues, their core body part, intact. An icky, compelling little genre thriller.

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Conjoined Paradise by Koutarou Ohkoshi
An extremely Maruo-esque tale of conjoined twins kept hidden away by their upper-class family, until the 1923 Tokyo earthquake leaves them as homeless orphans, soon picked up by an exploitative freak show. Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show is the blatant reference point, though Ohkoshi is no Maruo and the end result falls way short. Ohkoshi's obviously talented, but he lacks Maruo's extreme polish, storytelling acumen, and the rock-solid thematic core that makes Maruo's work, no matter how difficult to bear it can be at times, ultimately so bracing. Though this is way less explicit and upsetting than most of Maruo's work, it also comes across with more of a prurient, leering perspective on the sensationalist material in ways that are very uncomfortable, especially with respect to the child twins. Ohkoshi seems unsure if he wants to titillate, shock, or tug at heartstrings from moment to moment, whereas with Maruo there's always a clarity of purpose that shines through even the most grotesque sequences. As you might guess from the constant Maruo comparisons here, this is mainly just instructive for the ways this kind of story can go badly wrong - not recommended otherwise.
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Postby jca » Thu Mar 11, 2021 11:03 pm

awesome. Die Wergelder looks very awesome. those characters sound wild. Cocoon sounds good too, I like that mix of cute/brutal (madoka and made in abyss)
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Postby HotFingersClub » Fri Mar 12, 2021 4:08 am

Cool shit - the Samura sounds like a blast. I recently finished Blade of the Immortal and enjoyed it a lot so I'm feeling ready to embark on more of his stuff. Good to hear about the Tanabe adaptations from someone who's familiar with the source material as well. His art is really impressive as you say, especially how he can draw with such detail and clarity, but in a way that you don't really know what you're looking at half the time. It's a really clever way to bring out the "unimaginable" aspect of Lovecraft's descriptions

Cocoon is an interesting one, sounds like you enjoyed it more than I did. For anyone looking into it I would just warn that personally I found it genuinely harrowing, but ymmv. Maybe it's better if you have some idea of what you're getting yourself into
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Postby sevenarts » Fri Mar 12, 2021 8:20 am

You guys would def enjoy Die Wergelder. First non-Blade Samura I've really liked, he's clearly having a ton of fun with it even though it gets dark at times too.

I thought Cocoon was pretty great, yeah. It's a rough read for sure but to me it's using what could have been a quite simple gimmick in very affecting and interesting ways. I'm gonna keep exploring more Machiko, she seems really cool.
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Postby jca » Fri Mar 12, 2021 12:46 pm

im going back through the thread and saw you read Claudine sevenarts. have you read any others from Ikeda? I'm almost done with Oniisama e... and its really great. maybe rose of versailles next?
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Postby sevenarts » Fri Mar 12, 2021 1:39 pm

Oh cool. Oniisama and Rose of Versailles are the 2 I had on deck to try from Ikeda but haven’t gotten around to them yet. Good to hear she’s worth a deeper look, Claudine was fine but pretty dated. I like checking out the shoujo classics, they seem to get way less critical attention than the shounen/seinen stuff.
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Postby sevenarts » Mon Mar 15, 2021 7:57 am

I just have to post a little tease of what I'm reading now - NSFW lol

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Postby HotFingersClub » Mon Mar 15, 2021 9:27 am

Hahaha

GIS best guess for that is "Art" but I'm going to guess it's Kazuo Umezu's Fourteen. Is that where the new av comes from too?
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