Weekly recap: The fun I had!!

Alright, so this was another meh week overall, but it picked up near the weekend. I finally got around to write and post my review of Arte, the curiously feminist manga by Kei Ohkubo.

The most exciting news this week was today’s Doctor Who announcement. the thirteenth Doctor will be played by a woman for the first time! I am happy with this, not because I desperately wanted a female Doctor, but because I desperately wanted something different. Just anything but another young, white man. Not because there’s anything wrong with young white men, haha. But I really enjoyed Capaldi as the Doctor, I found it refreshing to have an older man instead of yet another bouncy, manic gummy-face – no offence to David Tennant or Matt Smith, but I’m glad they tried something different with Twelve. And I am glad they are trying something different with Thirteen! Having a woman in this role is going to result in new, fresh dynamics, and I’m curious to see what this will be like! I hope they are going to be more creative in the future as well – also with the choice of companions, since that’s another way to shake things up.

(I’ll just ignore the misogynistic backlash, since these whiny idiots don’t deserve to be taken seriously.)

Changing topic. It’s nearly been a month since RPG Maker Fes has come out … and I’ve really slowed down! D: That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I basically started taking my game more seriously, so now I am actually thinking about the big picture instead of making it up as I go along. I need some time to come up with a structure that works, and to flesh out the characters. Luckily, I greatly enjoy daydreaming about stories.

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Geek problems: lots of manga, little space

During the last few weeks, I watched a lot of Youtube videos of other people’s manga collections. I don’t really know why, because there isn’t much to be learned from this. Very few people have interesting collections, since it’s usually just the same popular titles that were released during the past five years, plus some “must-have” classics. I am really surprised by the amount of people who started collecting manga three months ago but are already at 500 volumes, which they appear to bulk-buy whether they like the series or not, in order to build a “complete” collection.

First of all, I can’t imagine that these people will be able to go on like this for years and years. One day, the bubble will burst, they’ll get tired of looking at all these books that don’t even interest them, they’ll run out of space and be forced to rethink their entire approach.

I think that completionist collections only make sense when there is a finite amount of things to be collected. A collection of all NES games makes more sense than one of all manga, even when you limit yourself to the titles released in one country/language. You wouldn’t set out to collect all novels, not even all novels in one genre or all novels from one publisher. Or all DVDs! All music CDs! Why do people do this with manga? There may be a mindset-related reason that I just don’t get, or even a cultural thing. Maybe it bled over from comics culture?

But there just isn’t that much space in my bookshelf, I couldn’t cram 1000 manga in there even if it was my heart’s desire! And it’s not: I don’t need to own every collector’s edition of Death Note, I don’t need to dutifully collect Bleach to the bitter end, I don’t keep buying a series I’ve lost interest in just so I can have the complete set (and never look at it?).

I want my collection to be personal, to reflect my interests. If want to be able to explain why any given title is granted precious space in my collection …

You know the kind of manga collectins that impress me? The ones that feature more obscure titles, the ones that have clearly been build and preserved over the course of many years and really say something about their owner. Anybody can just simply spend a shit ton of money buying books indiscriminately. This doesn’t impress me. What impresses me is when people demonstrate their good taste (which is, of course, subjective) and their familiarity with manga history, trends and so on.

*throws look at manga bookshelf* I’m obviously still really into shonen manga.

Reading manga in translation

My Japanese isn’t good enough, so I read manga in translation. I prefer reading in French, although French is only my third-best language. This has a lot to do with the French manga market, which offers more choice, great quality and decent prices. (Many French publishers are putting out editions that are essentially identical to the standard Japanese tankoban. Very good printing quality, dustjackets – and they’re slim, which means I can fit more in my shelf!

But I meant to talk about language. My Japanese may not be good, but I do know the basics. This means that when I read a translated manga and the text strikes me as odd, I automatically try to determine if it’s a translation mistake, by “retranslating” the text in my head.

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So where’s the manga fandom? Not anime fandom, manga fandom.

(Apologies in advance for this petty rant. ^^ I’m just venting.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve done a lot of googling and blog-hopping in search for this elusive thing: the manga fandom. The English speaking anime/manga fandom has always been focused on anime over manga, of course, so I’ve never really connected to it, since I prefer manga and don’t care about anime. But lately, it’s reached frustrating levels!

For example, when the new Rurouni Kenshin manga was announced, commenters on ANN and elsewhere didn’t really seem to care, but demanded a sequel to the anime instead. There’s this sad, annoying mindset in anime/manga fandom that the purpose of manga is to be a template for an anime, that a manga without an anime adaptation is not worth one’s attention at all, is somehow automatically a failure. And even the worst drivel on TV is somehow more noteworthy than literally any manga.

Very often, anime fans don’t even seem to care about the fact that many of the anime series that they consume are adaptated from a manga and not an original work. Again, look at all the Kenshin fans who desperately want to see the Jinchu arc animated, to finally see the story of Rurouni Kenshin properly concluded – but who have no intention of reading the manga! And it has been available in English for years! Yes, there are a lot of manga that you can’t easily get a hold of, or who aren’t available in English at all. But … well, often it’s like people don’t even consider the possibility that what they’re watching is just an adaptation, that there might be a longer, ongoing, better manga behind it. They don’t realize that quite often, the anime is the secondary material meant to support, not replace the manga. That mangakas create their stories to be read as manga, not used as screenplays for anime.

It’s not that I think people shouldn’t like anime. You can like whatever you want! But I’ve come across so many blogs and websites that claim to cover “manga and anime” but turn out to be about anime only, with maybe the occasional acknowledgement that manga exist. There are posts about anime that are tagged “manga” for some reason, which makes it really hard for me to find things that are relevant to my interests. It’s frustrating.

Does anybody know of any interesting manga blogs/websites? There are probably many that I just can’t find …

What is “great” manga artwork?

Let’s talk about manga artwork. There are a couple of manga that are regularly praised for their “amazing art” – Vagabond and Berserk, for example – and I’m like “eh”. I gave Vagabond a try several years ago, and actually found the artwork bad. It was a good display of great technical skill, but it conveyed nothing. It left me cold. It looked lifeless and boring to me. I couldn’t get into the manga at all, and dropped it. When people say “great art”, what they often mean is “photorealistic, highly detailed art”. Well, photorealism is overrated – not just when it comes to manga.

There are basic drawing skills that I think every really great mangaka must have: a good grasp on anatomy, facial expression and perspective, a sense for image composition, an ability to control the reader’s gaze … Manga is a fascinating medium because it requires a mix of very different skills. You can’t just focus on one aspect and ignore all the others, because the only thing that really matters is the end result, the story as a whole.

Some food for thought:

  • Hunter X Hunter is often singled out as a manga with “terrible art”, because Togashi has gone through periods when he’s delivered just rough sketches for publication in Weekly Shonen Jump. Let’s not discuss the possible reasons here – but even Togashi’s most casual sketches show that he’s an excellent artist with a sure grasp on anatomy.
  • Blade of the Immortal is another manga that gets praised a lot for its realistic artwork. I really like the art of Blade of the Immortal – not because of the realism, but because it is expressive, dynamic and fits the atmosphere of the story very well. Still, it’s not perfect: early BotI had some awkward anatomy problems, and one persistent weakness of Hiroaki Samura (which he even admits) is that his female characters tend to look the same. Actually, maybe this wouldn’t be so noticable if his style was less realistic?
  • There are a couple of manga I bought as a manga newbie because I found the artwork amazingly beautiful! Looking at these manga now, they’re just … OK, I guess, but nothing special. Maybe I was blinded by pretty character designs and a slightly above-average level of detail, but in the end, none of this was enough to keep my interest or make the manga memorable. I don’t think I even finished reading them.
  • How do I put this? >_< … I get the impression that “manga with great art” is often understood to mean “manga that doesn’t look like those typical manga because those are for kids and I need to prove that my tastes are that of a serious adult”. But it’s .. kind of sad that “doesn’t look like manga” is supposed to be the highest praise for manga art.

 

Moto Hagio: Iguana Girl

To improve my manga knowledge, I bought a collection of stories by Moto Hagio. Glénat’s Moto Hagio Anthologie comprises two volumes, one titled “De l’humain”, the other “De la rêverie” and features stories that were selected to fit into these two thematic categories. The stories are of various lengths, genres and maybe quality. The two books come with a white slipcase that is very sturdy and looks appropriately elegant. Since I am new to Moto Hagio, I cannot really comment on the editors’ choice of stories, but they cover a variety of styles and topics, and probably give a good overview of Hagio’s work.

Of all the stories in the De l’humain collection, I like Iguana Girl best.

In Iguana Girl – originally Iguana no musume, and titled La princesse iguane in French a woman gives birth to a baby, but the baby is actually … an iguana! At least that’s what she sees when she looks at her daughter, but to everyone else, little Rika looks perfectly normal. The manga follows the strained relationship between Rika, her mother and her younger sister Mami (who looks human and is blatantly favoured by their mother) through the girls’ childhood and into adulthood. Influenced by her mother’s treatment of her, Rika thinks of herself as an iguana, too, which also affects how she relates to other people.

There is something intrinsically heart-breaking about a mother rejecting her child. It’s one of those scenarios that just hurt, without needing much context. Iguana Girl captures this feeling perfectly. It is a touching story. It made me tear up – though I admit I cry easily over fiction.

I think that this manga works on an emotional level first and foremost, by appealing to the primal fear of maternal abandonment, and by relying on Rika’s cuteness to evoke maternal instincts in the reader. I would propose that drawing Rika as a lizard, instead of a normal human child, actually makes her appear more cute, more loveable. Maybe because we’ve already seen these emotions expressed on human faces a million times, but with the face of a tiny lizard, they feel fresh and genuine instead of clichéd?

(And the rest will contain spoilers.)

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Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

I immensely enjoyed the first novel in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, Three Parts Dead, but just couldn’t muster the same level of enthusiasm for the subsequent novels. Which made me a little sad and disappointed. It’s not that I hated the books, I just found them OK, when I was hoping to find them precious treasures. At least Four Roads Cross is a direct sequel to Three Parts Dead, which means it stars my favourite Tara in the leading role, and deals with the aftermath of the first novel’s plot. These are good things! Yay!

Other than that … I just don’t know. I still want to like this series, but the truth is that I just find the books … sort of middling. And so frustrating and boring at times. Meh. Looking at other people’s reviews, I am pretty much alone with this impression. Four Roads Cross has some neat ideas and great moments, and evoked some cool visuals in my mind’s eye, but most of the time, I found myself bored and wondering when the pace would pick up, what the relevance of a scene or a whole subplot or character was even going to be. When would it all pay off? U_U

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