Democracy of Comic Zenon

If you haven’t heard of Monthly Comic Zenon, you aren’t alone. However, it is time you took note since their website is posting manga in English for free and taking votes about what to do next. MCZ is ostensibly a seinen magazine but when you look at the full title list it feels more like a variety pack. It launched from the ashes of Weekly Comic Bunch with the likes of Testuo Hara (artist of Fist of the North Star) and Tsukasa Hojo (creator of City Hunter) both of who still have titles running in the magazine.

More and more Japanese manga publishers are taking the translation and distribution of their works online into their own hands. This certainly seems to work in the favor of fans and has opened up access to a lot of titles we might not see otherwise. So be sure to visit and vote!

Forensic Girl Hayama-san by Izumi Sato

narutaki_icon_4040 It is our sworn duty to request mysteries! I am a sucker for the amateur detective and that’s Hayama though she has learned a thing or two from her father. It being about the more technical forensic side gives it a little something different, too. Sadly, there are no murder mysteries in this series.

Sato was the artist for Reizouko Tantei (Fridge Detective) written by Saemi Endou which sounds rather delightful, too, as it involved a caterer who could decipher things about her clients through the items in their fridge.

Plus, this from the editor of Forensic Girl Hayama-san: “This manga is full of investigative techniques that you can try at home!”

HANAKAKU: The Last Girl Standing
by Katsunori Matsui

hisui_icon_4040 It seems like a fairly simple formula. A small cute girl wishes to get stronger so she trains in MMA. It is the traditional shonen formula only with lovely ladies instead of burly boys. You will have the standard mechanics of rivals, new techniques, and overcoming losses to become stronger like in any other sports manga. It is a structure that is popular because when executed on properly it just feels super satisfying. It all comes down to the skill involved.

First of all I would be a bit more worried about the whole cute girls doing sports but Bamboo Blade, Taisho Baseball Girls, and Yawara! have long since convinced me that it is a solid genre that can easily be navigated with some careful prudence. Second the series was given the thumbs up by Eiichiro Oda so that gives me a good deal of confidence. Third the author is actually a long time fan of MMA and actually trained in the sport so it going to come from a fairly well informed place. And lastly the author of the manga was the artist on the Sommelière manga. That was a fairly long running series with a good reputation. I’m hoping that Katsunori Matsui took away from good writing technique from their time working with Araki Joh.

All of that makes a fairly convincing pedigree which makes me want to read the series.

DD Hokuto no Ken by Kajio

narutaki_icon_4040 Obviously not from the creators of the original Fist of the North Star manga. Kajio’s series is about silly, everyday Fist of the North Star adventures in modern Tokyo. Super-cute art with slap-stick comedy. It is necessary.

Itsuya-san by Mizu Sahara

hisui_icon_4040Unlike sports manga I feel healing manga has a very delicate line to balance on. The slower pace and often formulaic patterns can easily lead to a series in the genre being a pleasant sleep aid if they don’t have the right spark. All series can feel repetitive and bland but in many ways they have to do their best to avoid falling in the pitfalls of monotony. Healing series have to actively get out of the ditch they start in. That is why all the best examples in the genre either have authors so compelling that you can’t help but read what they have to say or the series needs a hook to make everything exciting. Itsuya-san uses a magical gimmick.

In the series there is an art teach who can bring drawing to life and one of her student discovers her secret ability. From what I gather they go on to help people with her power. It seems like a promising premise. The art style easily suggests a delicate and heartwarming tale every week. I am curious to see how whimsical, fantastical, or melodramatic the stories are. I’m hoping that Itsuya-san will be a pleasant balance of all three.

The premise reminds me a bit of Genkaku Picasso but I see enough differences between the series that I would like to see how Itsuya-san tells its stories.

I will also mention that Mizu Sahara also goes by Sumomo Yumeka and Keita Sahara depending on which genre she is working in so she has a good deal of BL and shojo work under her belt as well.

Tokyo Share Story
by Motoko Takahashi and Reiko Tada

narutaki_icon_4040 This story simply sings to me: five 40-ish single women decide to live together to share their lives and futures instead of the more conventional paths taken. Sounds to be a very down to earth series about friendship and life and it is refreshing to see more stories about older women.

Tada’s artwork has a soft light quality that appears a lot in josei stories which is so good at depicting modern, “real” women. You can see the personalities already coming through in just the promotional image.

Suzuki Just Wants a Quiet Life
by Hirohisa Sato

hisui_icon_4040I feel if HANAKAKU or Itsuya-san are not that enjoyable it will probably be more that they are sort of boring or unoriginal than actually being bad. Suzuki Just Wants a Quiet Life on the other hand is probably the only one of the three series I picked that had a distinct chance to be downright awful. Suzuki is a teenage assassin on the run so that means lost of gun play, chase scenes, and general mayhem. On the other hand she is also protecting a young boy so that means there is potential for melodrama and sentiment. These are not modes of storytelling that oppose each other. In fact when functioning correctly they enhance each other to greater heights. The problem is when they are in conflict they can create an aggravating dissonance.

If the series plays it cards right it could really be a hit. If the fight scenes are solid than it can easily be a fun junk food title. If the bond between Suzuki and Jinsuke is compelling than the series could actually rise about merely being a simple action series.  The bond between the two protagonist does not have to be fully functional. It just need to be interesting. If Suzuki and/or Jinsuke are unnecessarily aggravating it could easy sink the whole premise. I have never seen any other work by this artist so I can’t easily judge where the balance is going to lie.

I see a good amount of potential in the series but I’m going in with a bit of cautious optimism.

narutaki_icon_4040 Of the titles that have already had their first chapters posted, I really enjoyed Arte by Kei Ohkubo. It is about a young noble woman who wants to become a painter in 16th century Europe despite the obstacles. Ohkubo’s precise and detailed art style works wonderfully for the historical setting, reminding me of Karou Mori or Makoto Yukimura.

Many of the titles that caught my interest seemed to be from fairly new manga-ka who are just starting out as independent creators. So there is a bit of the thrill of discovery with something like this! There is also a lot of variety in the series choices, really all genres are represented with many different art styles. I look forward to seeing much more from all the creators of Comic Zenon.

hisui_icon_4040 I really agree with Kate that Arte was undoubtedly one of the most intriguing of the titles that got full chapters. It really seemed like the title that could be a break out hit among manga critics. Its mixture of a feisty and empowered female lead, a beautiful historical setting, and compelling art are a killer combination.

I am really curious to see how people react to Angel Heart. I remember that series being somewhat controversial among fans of the franchise when it came out. When it was originally billed as a sequel to City Hunter there was a good deal of interest in the follow-up to a beloved classic. When it was revealed that the heroine from the original series dies at the start of the new story there was a vocal amount anger about that to the point there Tsukasa Hojo had to implicitly state that Angel Heart takes place in an alternate timeline from the original City Hunter. It seems that explanation plus some distance has soothed Japanese fans over the series as it getting a live action adaptation soon and has been getting a big push in general.

I am mostly curious to see an English-speaking reaction to the series. On one hand without a large City Hunter fandom I wonder if anyone is really pumped to read Angel Heart which seems very dedicated to reminding you of its parent manga. On the other hand a readership free from perceptions from the original might be able to give the new series a fair shake and judge it entirely for its own merits and flaws.

(By the way, people loving to play the Street Fighter scene from the City Hunter movie with Jackie Chan does not count as a proper City Hunter fandom.)

Unlike anime streaming it is almost impossible to imagine a day where we get every current manga title being translated day and date into English. There are just too many titles many of which are far too niche. But the more magazines we seeing trying initiates like this the closer we get to a happy balance of what people want to read and what they can get legally. A carefully mix of reader’s choice and informed curation could lead to a wondrous new future for manga online. A selection process like this could get more titles than fans will enjoy as opposed to titles that Japanese suits think people want. That in of itself makes this a very interesting experiment.

I wish it the best of luck and hope that it is a sign of better things to come.

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