Manga of the Month: Isabella Bird in Wonderland

Isabella Bird in Wonderland (ふしぎの国のバード) by Taiga Sassa

Adventuress and writer Isabella Bird arrived in 1870s-era Japan with a grand plan to travel all through the country recording her experience with the culture and people along the way. But Japan was extensively closed to foreigners; few if any were let past the major cities and left to explore the greater country.

Isabella’s fame as a traveler, the help of a friend, and a little extra time spent in Edo gained her access to a rare, unrestricted passport. With her indispensable interpreter Ito in tow, Isabella set off to see the country and make her way north to meet the Ainu people.

During the Meiji-restoration Japan was in a place of great transition. New political rule and a move to new technological advances were soon to change the face of the country and make certain ways of life by-gone. Isabella’s culture shock was played for laughs, but she was deeply interested in the ways of this foreign world and respected it. She was full of humor, wit, kindness, and curiosity.

Taiga Sassa’s art is lush with minute details bring the period to life, and it was inevitable that I would pour over each crafted item, piece of clothing, or architectural component just as Isabella did. Sassa’s precise line work extends to the characters and their expressions as well whether conveying something subtle with their eyes or an over-top reaction. A beautiful manga that feels in line with the work of Kaoru Mori.

Isabella and her travels are real! This manga is based on her actual writings. Having not read Isabella Bird’s travel diary Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, I don’t know how closely this manga sticks to its source material. A rare bilingual edition of the first volume of this manga came out in Japan (which is how I read it).

~kate

Manga of the Month: In This Corner of the World

In This Corner of the World (この世界の片隅に) by Fumiyo Kouno

hisui_icon_4040_round When there is both an anime and a manga of the same story the natural question is which of the two should you experience before the other. The simple answer is usually to seek out the original first and then look at the other one if you have the time and money.

When a title is originally an anime seeking out the manga is usually only for those who are gluttons for punishment. They tend to be pale imitations of the original with truncated narratives and inferior storytelling. There are some notable exceptions but they are mostly the exception that proves the rule.

Titles that are manga first fare better when translated to anime. They tend to be hit or miss if they can live up to the original but good anime adaptations of manga are hardly shocking. The real rarity is the anime that surpasses its origin. If anything the anime are usually just very competent direct translations that add little to the story but also don’t lose much either. Overall your best bet is to stick to manga and maybe watch the anime if it has some cool fights or pretty scenery. It also means if you saw the anime there is little reason to read the manga.

This formula is a quick criterion that does a pretty good job of making effective use of your time.  It is important to note that there are some special examples that stand out as prime examples of flying right in the face of that simple rule of thumb. The rare case where the anime and manga are both are each brilliant pieces of art in their own way and worth experiencing twice. Each version tells the same story but is able to do it in a way that is complementary to both versions. Akira and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind are the two titles that come to mind when talking about this. People often prefer one over the other but still recommend that you see both. I would say without hesitation In This Corner of the World is also on this short list of titles that are worth experiencing in both of its forms.

Continue reading

Manga of the Month: The Ghost and the Lady

The Ghost and the Lady (黒博物館 スプリンガルド) by Kazuhiro Fujita

hisui_icon_4040_round I have generally made it a rule not to randomly attend industry panels anymore. For the longest time, you can see almost any announcements instantly thanks to Crunchyroll News and Anime News Network when they cover conventions. On top of that between fans, bloggers, journalist, and industry reps I have found that Twitter covers all of your other bases. You can even often ask the people running the panel a question over Twitter. But I recently realized I might have spoken a little too soon. What I should have said is that anime panels are not that big a priority but there are some unexpected benefits to going to manga panels.

I say that because I realized that streaming makes people aware of 95% of what is playing in Japan at any time. Other than kids shows and some odd exceptions you can watch almost every major TV show and most of the minor ones. Therefore I feel most hardcore fans have a decent awareness of what is available and what anime is out there. On the other hand, manga is still mostly an ocean of undiscovered country. You need to be able to read Japanese and have access to manga magazines and manga apps to even have a decent overview of what comes out every week in manga.

This problem is only compounded by the fact that I always feel the manga localization companies are mediocre at making people aware of anything but their most prominent titles. Vertical is probably the best about advertising their whole catalog but at most I can only name the big titles from most companies unless I have a personal investment in some of their other series. I am regularly shocked when I see half of  VIZ’s catalog because I was totally unaware that many of their titles exist let alone they were licensed.  I don’t claim to be an advertising wizard that has the solution to this lack of penetration but it is clearly a case where most fans who care have to put in the work otherwise they can easily miss some gems.

One of those diamonds in the rough is The Ghost and the Lady. I had been trying to see as much anime and manga content at NYCC in 2016 one of the panels I attended was the Kodansha Comics panel. There I saw several titles I was totally unaware of. The one that interested me the most was a historical supernatural tale that teamed up Florence Nightingale with Man in Grey of Drury Lane. It has secret histories, magic, dueling, and mystery. SOLD!

If I had not gone to that panel I would have never known this existed. That would distinctly be a shame because this is all up my alley. (I also might have gotten Florence Nightingale as a Servant in Fate/Grand Order so I am doubly interested in various interpretations of her now. That is sort of silly but it is true none the less.)

Continue reading