Ongoing Investigations: Case #141

I got to read Gen Manga volumes 3 & 4 back to back. Reading both volumes in succession makes me realize that the storytelling in Gen is somewhat compressed compared to your normal mainstream manga experience. While the storytelling still has a distinctly manga feel you don’t get the impression that the stories contained within are assuming they are going to run for 20+ books. They seems to be primed to end in a book or two but could run longer. Mainstream manga seems more designed to run for a long time but could be cut short if forced to. The individual chapters still have a more manga styled decompressed flow but chapter to chapter it seems more compressed. But all the compressed vs. decompressed storytelling talk from Ogiue Maniax might be why I am noticing it more. Vs Aliens is still my favorite story in the anthology. It has a very quirky story with some unusual twists every chapter. The only problem is that is quickly coming down to the big reveal of what is actually going on. If the final reveal is lame is going to really hurt the overall story. The boxing story is Wolf is still solid but I am not sure if I really care for the added element of the hyperactive flat chested girl vs the distant chesty girl love story. My feelings on KAMEN are still up in the air as I am interested in the story but not deeply invested. There is a promise of a big fight scene in the next chapter. How well the fight is pulled off I might help me solidify my feelings. I still don’t really like Souls. Volume three ends one arc and volume four starts a new arc. Volume three ended a bit lighter than I assumed it will but this genre has just never been my cup of tea. In volume 4 there is a one shot story called Sorako. This really feels like an American indy comic. It is the story of a small town girl who feels trapped in her small life under the backdrop of looking for her dog that ran away. It is slice of life in a way that really feels like an American comic more than a Japanese style of same formula. Gen is still an interesting experiment in the U.S. It has the feel of a doujinshi anthology but will a more consistent schedule. I am curious how well it will do here.

With great elation, I started the new season of anime by watching Bakuman S2. We start the season with Ashirogi Muto waiting for their editor to come to the studio to go over their contract for serialization. It is an exciting time and they are also invited to the Shonen Jack New Year’s bash. This episode is really about them getting acclimated with their new positions, getting assistants, and meeting some new people as well as getting to know others better. It is mostly a set-up for things to come and I can’t wait for those things!

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #131

Buddha is one of Vertical’s most acclaimed and best-selling Tezuka manga. So the fact that Toei Animation produced Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure as part 1 of a trilogy of high budget movies adapting the legendary manga caused a good deal of anticipation in the anime community. While the movie is competent it sadly does not live up to its potential. Having to adapt eight pretty hefty volumes in three movies is quite a task. So they have to compress and rearrange some of the material. It can be a bit disconcerting to anyone who read the books but I did find it took me too far out of the story. The main problem is the movie is about as subtle as a neon pink elephant with a boom box playing a heavy metal cover of Pink Elephants on Parade. The original manga knows how to guide the pace of the story and your emotions so things come off as organic. The movie goes boom boom boom from one scene to another without any real elegance. A story like this needs time to breathe so the powerful scenes are more resonant. But with no tonal shifts everything becomes a monotone instead of a constant high. The soundtrack in pretty much over your shoulder the whole movie screaming in your ear the themes of each scene. Everything has a slightly cheesy feeling by the fact that the music is always in your face ham-fistedly trying to invoke an emotional reaction out of you. The animation is clearly high budget and theatrical but the direction robs any of the impact that would have had. It is not that this movie is bad. The problem is that it is so much lesser when compared the amazing source material it is based on.

Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure is the first of three planned films. I have never read the original manga so this was my introduction to the series as well as the figure of Buddha who I only know a minimal amount about. The film is well and truly a fable so with that comes some things you either accept or don’t. With a fable there is a lot of grand gesture and speech, everything that happens is there with utmost importance to teach us something or drive home a point. And to that end, cut out are the little pieces that make up a character; they are more an idea than anything else. However, even rolling with that there are certain aspects of this movie that don’t jive. It was clear the filmmakers had a ton of material to get through which created some incredibly abrupt scene changes so much so that emotional impact was lost. The film is split about 50/50 between Siddhartha (who becomes Buddha) and Capra (a boy who rises in the caste system) however by the end of the film I was unable to fully link these two. At least not enough to justify spending so much of their precious little time on Capra but perhaps that will be resolved in the subsequent installments. And finally, I kept thinking that movie was over time and again but then it would just keep going. Buddha: The Great Departure isn’t an overly long film but because of its execution it wore out its welcome.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #130

GEN Magazine is a new online offering from small publisher GEN Manga Entertainment, Inc.. The first issue features four very different stories from sumo and boxing to oddball comedy to fantasy and finally to horror. The first Wolf was a bit hard to decipher at first, I thought perhaps it was a crime series but by the end it had a dramatic sports feeling. I’m curious how the budding friendship between Shota and Naoto will affect their separate threads. Also on the curious drama end was KAMEN where a masked warrior wakes up to find himself in a war-torn countryside. This story has a familiar, kind of like Guin Saga, feeling. But as with most fantasy stories, one chapter is not enough to get a feel for the world and mythos it is building yet. The drama is finished out with Souls where a mysterious woman confronts a girl’s mother about her past grievances. There wasn’t enough time to build the tension and emotion in the story so the resolution doesn’t produce a great reaction. My reactions were spot on for VS Aliens though with its absurd humor. Kitaro is minding his own business in school when Aya approaches him saying she believes another girl, Sana, is actually an alien. What sold me was Sana’s reaction to the whole thing, I chuckled quite a lot. The art in this anthology stands out because each series is dramatically different from each other but all leaning to the more raw end. While odd at times and indie, it never comes off as pretentious. I enjoyed three out of four stories so I call this a successful first issue!

I want to be clear what it means when GEN Magazine says it is an indie manga collection. For better or for worse this is not the AX Alternative Manga magazine. These are not radically experimental manga that break with the formula and structure of traditional manga. This is your more standard forms of manga from a small publisher that you would not normally think of alongside names like Shueisha and Kodansha. These are standard story types with artists you most probably have never heard of. But this is not a bad thing. Every manga anthology tends to have a different feel. If you had three baseball manga you can pick out which one is from Shonen Sunday, Shonen Jump, and Afternoon just by their style. So even something like the boxing manga in this anthology may have manga tropes you have seen in more mainstream titles but it also has a unique vibe. Like Narutaki said the titles contained within feel a little more raw than you may be used to. You can tell the artists don’t have many (if any) assistants due to smaller budgets so the backgrounds are very infrequent and some of the art looks less polished than you would see in bigger magazines. On the other hand, the titles also seem freer structure and less merchandise controlled than selections from the big boys. The two titles that stuck out for me were VS Aliens and Souls. I just had to say that VS Aliens in my opinion feels very influenced by Haruhi without being a carbon copy. Not exactly sure where it is going but I am curious. I also did not like Souls but I freely admit that horror is my least favorite genre so very few horror manga tickle my fancy. Wolf and KAMEN were enjoyable but I would need a few more chapters before I could give any sort of definitive opinion on them. Wolf reminded me of Ashita no Joe while KAMEN struck my as a fantasy version of Parasyte. Reading GEN left like reading original concept doujinshi with the benefit of the structure and reliability of a professional magazine. It is a magazine for people who want something outside of the mainstream without going into avant-garde pretentiousness.

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