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AICN Anime - Don't Call It a Comeback, EDEN Returns After 24 Months - Also New Manga BLOODY MONDAY, ANIMAL LAND and GEN


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Column by Scott Green


Manga Spotlight: Eden: It's An Endless World
Volume 13
by Hiroki Endo
Released Dark Horse

Wrap your head around this... Eden: It's an Endless world made the New York Times' manga best sellers list, yet, its sales are such that it's been two years since Dark Horse has been able to afford to publish a volume (September 2009).

Eden is a smart work that is remarkably charged in its sci-fi, geopolitics and especially the extent of its violence. On one hand its qualities are rare among manga released in North America. It's one of the few answers to supply if someone asks for something to read that's like Ghost in the Shell. I'd certainly recommend it above the recent Stand Alone Complex adaptation by Yuu Kinutani.

On the other hand, I'm not so starved for media that I was willing to give it a long leash. As such, I'm wasn't prepared to actively try to work up my earlier enthusiasm for the series if was incomprehensible because it's returning mid-stream. There's too much media out and too few hours in the day to sustain a good Samaritan wing of the book shelf for charity cases impoverished by release delays.

Even if it's strongly written, even if it was originally a monthly series and not a weekly one, that sort of hiatus does the collected release of complex, serialized manga no favors. Beyond lost momentum, beyond forgotten details, it finds itself on the wrong side of the quickly moving fields of technology and global politics. Where it once seem prescient or well informed, elements like the laughable large data discs are now reminders that the series ended its run three years back.

In some respects, far from exhausting its lead, the series held up better than I thought it was safe to expect. Eden opened with adolescents Ennoia Ballard and Hannah Mayall, two of what might be only a few survivors of a devastating pandemic that left its victims horrific calcified corpse. Alone with a dying, homosexual scientist in a high tech installation, the small group discussed morality in what might either be a twilight or a new dawn for the species. Except, humanity doesn't die out and, in the decades of the species trying to shake off the trauma, the sheltered boy grows up to be a drug kingpin as a means to his anti-global hegemony agitation ends.
This volume opens with a short scene of Ennoia visiting his estranged, brain damaged wife Hannah. Though it was highly unlikely to have been planned as such, the brief, uneventful chapter is quick to recall the intriguing circumstances that the manga established back when it first hit the US in 2005 (the Japanese launch was in the pre-millennial days of 1998) and the provocative path on which it developed from there.

And, while I was thinking back through that character's trajectory the manga turned onto another of it's fascinating facets, with a sci-fi caper, with ideas, tech and violence at the caliber that made Eden such a heavy hitter. Again, we get a privileged kid, introduced with an innocence in their approach to weighty metaphysical issues, who takes a nacro-crime education into anti-establishment activities. This time, it's the protagonist of the majority of the series, Elijah Ballard, son of Ennoi, first shown surviving on his own, outside the stream of society, living with the protection and assistance of powerful robot Cherubim , and considering the role of humanity in the cosmos. That meditation was interrupted when he became wrapped up with the desperate activities of a group of mercenary/rebels, and later when he was embroiled with the activities of prostitutes and organized crime.

So, far from the lily, philosophizing kid first introduced, the Elijah organizing an operation to extract an Israeli scientist/political leader from a well guarded compound in this volume is a drug user, sexually active, practiced, bloodied sniper, and willing to sacrifice pawns to achieve his objectives. To accomplish the latest mission he sets out for himself, he introduces a sophisticated strategic cocktail that include a hired, fairly high on the curve criminal gang, a powerful AI, a woman police officer of like age to himself and overlapping objectives and a bevy of gadgets like a robotic insect "recon bee," and his own sniping field work.

The violent break-in/abduction that unfolds over a nice chunk of the volume turns out to be a well executed caper story, with enough run and gun and duplicity to hold up well against action crime stories from any medium. The technologically enabled feints complicate the engagement ways that aren't entirely unpredictable, but which are still intricate, explosive, and in some cases weird enough to put a fun layer of sci-fi over without subverting what works about the proceedings a caper.

Following the extraction, as the manga gets down to the business of its larger story arc, the volume proceeds to reference the other elements that made me a vocal proponent of Eden: J.G Ballard, human evolution towards a singularity, geopolitics and race.

Yet, I've always worried about overselling Eden. You have this bread crumb trail of sci-fi concepts, religious allusions, and crime embroiled family drama, and I've never been entirely convinced that the path was going to lead to anything like a coherent thesis. Hiroki Endo clearly has a view of the world that he's articulating through the manga, but where does that weigh against keeping readers nailed boards for a ride, especially when a key attraction is the catalog is the head-on-a-swivel gruesome ways in which cyborgs kill and are killed. How much time did Endo spend scheming up new outrageous violence versus delivering on the promises of the themes evoked?

The new hitch(es) are that given the space between volumes, I've begun to lose patience, and, either Endo has grown bored, or he has been bored and I'm noticing it more now that my high regard slipping with my patience,

On one hand Endo, puts some strange moments of unnecessarily showy design into this volume; evoking a video split screen for a conversation is a bit novel, but doing it for one panel with no discernable reason is just perplexing.
On the other hand, while he's still allotting plenty of space for Eden's remarkable brand of action, its inventiveness has turned hit or miss. The crime caper in the early part of the volume hit with a fresh remix of conventions. The latter part of the volume has an extended battle with a hulking, shotgun armed cyborg and his short, leaping blade armed companion. In that case, the hallmarks of Eden don't help, compounding familiarity rather than differentiating. Seen it here, and seen it elsewhere.
Taking together, the extravagant bits and the rote bits seem like symptoms of boredom. The manga runs 18 volumes, but at this point, Endo seems to be having some difficulty keeping the manga vital to the reader, and maybe also to himself.

The question of whether Eden is just a solid action series or if its sci-fi with true gravitas is also affected by this rut.

The manga calls itself "Eden," and it opens with a plague killing off much of humanity, leaving an adolescent boy and girl alone to discuss the nature of sin. It then posts marker references to Gnosticism with names like Sophia, Maya and the aeons. Through this volume, Eden is still working the "let me google that name." However, the manga is having a difficult time find depth to match its implicit promises.
Volume 12 builds out its comparative religion with the introduction of an Israeli scientist. That character mentions that perhaps the consequence of something was "Yahweh's will." Later he considers the disposition of the soul of his grandson. Dialog like that reads as if the manga was working off a remote understanding of Judaism. It's surface and wrongfooted, and as a building block in the larger conversation Eden is trying lay out, it isn't getting us anywhere.

You have drug use, technological augmentation and criminal activity actively compromising the subjects of the manga: physically, psychologically neurally and morally. You have potentially apocalyptic pandemics affecting societies and even the species. Eden shows every sign of wanting to posit some statement about how all this is reconfiguring and/or revealing something about its subjects. The problem is, this late in the run, it has yet to instilled much faith that it's actually going to make one.

The issue isn't just that the newly released volume is embellishing Eden's latest phase rather than moving forward. Eden raised provocative questions early on, and all the transitions that the rather dynamic manga series has made since them have largely been about trying to find exciting ways to retrace those questions. Open endedness doesn't serve a manga series this large. Simply, at some point it is going to have to start elaborating on what it all amounts to.


Manga Spotlight: Gantz
Volumes 17 and 18
by Hiroya Oku
Released by Dark Horse

Surprise! After a talky volume that aimed to encourage us to care about the cast and emotionally invest in the situation in which they found themselves, Gantz has unloaded with two volumes of superlative exploitation manga action. I suspect that the next volume is going offer a climax and then rev up the formula again. Gantz is always capable of kicking the legs out from under the proceedings, but the bloody geyser seems to be currently locked into a predictably volatile pattern.

For the first time motivated by something other than teen against and survival instinct, Gantz's hero Kurono , who at this point has proven to be in fact hero and not just another asshole in the crowd, takes to the field with a team that includes his sociopath rival, a starlet, a guy who has basically Street Fighter's Ryu, a late middle aged everyman, a pair of social outcasts who have developed psychic powers, and a number of red shirts with clear targets on their chests.

In this latest outing, the sci-fi gear equipped group of humans are grappling in a kill-or-be-killed deathlock with a group of alien oni. Far from cute horns and tiger striped bikinis, this threatening crowd brings to the table either super-hero abilities like throwing fire and turning into rock or horror trope-ish powers such as possessing and warping human bodies or changing their own forms in mind-engravingly grotesque ways. To top it off, unlike many of the creatures of simple rage and instinct that populated the manga's earlier bug hunts, these baddies are very cognoscente that they're engage in a mortal throw down against the Gantz team.

And, as the human hunters and the oni aliens brutalize each other, a cadre of Tarantino character-esque "vampires" wait in the wings

Gantz's second, "Blue" phase (so named for its cover color scheme) reworked the formula for how these man versus super-naturalish extra terrestrial throw downs play out.

The initial "Red" phase followed the pattern of a group of ill prepared humans hurtling down the streets of Tokyo in a video-game like "kill X aliens" hunt. The humans find the aliens in a passive state, and savage the creatures. The aliens then awaken, transform and call in bigger, nastier variants who proceed to turn the humans into gristle and bone chips, before some subset of our protagonists survive something like a level clear.

For what's now been a couple iterations, the Blue phase is more along the lines of two, relatively more equally matched sides at war, trying to vivisect each other. It's an action movie on the performance enhancing drugs of the freedom afforded by manga, and manga on the performance enhancing drugs of deep digital inks.

With its early subtext abandoned, Gantz is now entirely unrestrained, and, at this point, just teeing off on the violent scenarios it constructs. Gantz isn't going to convince anyone disinclined toward paying attention to graphic violence, but just delivering the sort of blitzed excitement that its specific audience wants is not such a terrible thing.

The manga's 3D approach has its issues, but for the fights, what it can manage with presence and expression is perfectly suitable for juicing up the intensity. For example, the hard looks as the Ryu guy stares directly into the chest of a stone titan, sweat beading on his forehead works to sell the excitement of a martial arts master about to his test his abilities against something inhuman.

Gantz's configuration would seem to lend itself to rinse and repeat same-ness, with humans in black spandex bumping into one monster figure out of the toychest after the next. This set of volumes is an ideal example of the sort of mix that Gantz employs to hop that pit fall. Oku spreads the conflict out over satisfyingly sustained periods, with enough variety to keep the proceedings fresh. There's the bit with the city block crunching karate brawl, and about 40 pages or so of whirl wind madness with the hero and rival taking their swords to what amounts the level miniboss, but there's also a meeting between an amorous team mate and a shape changer, which serves as an awesome extrapolation of Dirty Uncle of Manga Go Nagai's tradition of sexual and body horror. It is worth reiterating that what ir does manage is not so fascinating that an uninterested is going to be converted, but the extent to which is keeps the ferocious grind churning is still impressive.

Back in the day, when you had to clarify that "Manga" was the name of a company that distributed anime, where as "manga" refers Japanese comics, there was a perception that anime and manga were well spring of trangressively violent genre works. Interested parties then watched Ninja Scroll, Wicked City, and the other Yoshiaki Kawajiri works, saw that there wasn't really much else like it, and moved on. Well, though they might be frequently conflated, the audience for manga is not the same as the audience for anime. Manga does have plenty of that brand of eye gouging works, and Gantz happens to be a leader in that vicious pack. Gantz isn't great art, or, despite early head fakes in the direction, anything thoughtful. It's just effective entertainment of its sort.

Manga Spotlight: Bloody Monday
Volume 1
By Ryou Ryumon and Kouji Megumi
Release by Kodansha Comics

This is the manga equivalent of the not so great action thriller that you catch in the theaters to kill an off-day afternoon or just leave playing for lack of anything better on cable. It's an effective enough diversion to anesthetize, or maybe apathy away, a rejection of intelligence insulting qualities.

As is appropriate for a story of its check your brain at the door type, it starts with a decent high concept. The opening author's note features a discussion of the inspiration to explore that might happen if prankster hackers, predisposed to a sense of justice, were enlisted by the government groups they broke into. Then, in terms of level of sophistication to reasonably expect, the series is from Weekly Shonen Magazine, an anthology that the home of Getbackers, Pscyhometer Eiji and GTO, which can skew a bit older than some "shonen" labeled anthologies.

The event of the title is set in motion when a curvy spy travels to Russia on Christmas Eve to make a deal to buy a virus. Coming into the event inoculated, she takes some of the viral agent out of the vial she acquires, applies it to her lips and gives her contact a goodbye kiss.

Four months later, at the private Mishiro Senior High School, we meet Takagi Fujimaru, an unexceptional-ish, maybe a bit crude and unorderly high school student, who happens also be the peerless hacker "Falcon." We learn that after some youthful experimentation, hacking into porn sites he began using his paramount network trespassing skills as a tool to advance good causes. In a pre-main action demonstration of ability, he aids some peers who were wrongfully persecuted by a sadistic and pervy school administrator. And, we’re told that he has a history of assisting his father in dad's work as a public security intelligence deputy chief.

Pieces begin falling into place with Takagi assisting in decrypting a file from the Bloody Monday incident, the femme fatale spy taking up the job as a local science teacher and his father being framed for the murder of a law enforcement department superior.

Bloody Monday has some solid dramatic ideas. For example, one effective element is the conceit that Fujimaru needs to stay put himself to mind a younger sister who kidney problems while the family become social pariahs due to the publicity surrounding his father's supposed crime. However, the manga loves clichés and loves laying it thick. I knew I was in trouble when that sister greeted the lead with a smile and "welcome home big brother." If it goes there unironically, there's no manga hobby horse that the series is going to eschew.

Though the half life of its popularity seems to have elapsed surprisingly quickly, Death Note is still probably the yard stick for manga thrillers. As a measure, Death Note illuminates the way that Bloody Monday chases sensationalism rather than thinking. While Death Note's hero had the supernatural power to kill, his fate was explicitly determined by how he planned to use it. The best bits were the planning and out maneuvering. Here, we have a hero who is using mental capacities rather than anything physical to resolve his perilous predicament. Yet, at least in this first volume, Bloody Monday plays out like an authorial arrange roller coaster, and not Death Note's clash of adversarial intelligences. Things happen and characters and the reader are supposed to react to the stimuli.

As with a not-particularly sophisticated rollercoaster, you can see climbs and drops coming. The progress is all story moment driven by "of course" resolutions. Of course the teacher harassing the hero's peers has kinky skeletons in his closet. Of course, when Takagi unlocks the Bloody Monday files, it's a video of a girl playing with a teddy bear, and of course she's about to start vomiting blood on the next page.

Yes, it is fast moving, but so fast its prone to just dump the obvious. Story algebra is laid out explicitly, such that what you should know is spelled out plainly and mystery variables identified and highlighted in bold.

Characters state the likes of "I do admit that I was flabbergasted when we discovered that our archenemy 'Falcon,' who'd breached Third-I's powerful security barrier's numerous times and casually browsed highly classified information was your son, who was only a middle school student at the time.'

"I'll do everything I can on my end, but if something were to happen to me... no... I can’t ask that of you... Fujimaru... there's just one thing I can tell you now. Listen only, without repeating it back." Them in a full page face shot "Bloody Monday."

Spoken by the sexy spy woman (wearing nothing but under-garment at the time) "There is a possibility that Takagi Ryunosuke will contact his son Fujimaru. In which case, the 'thing' that Okita possessed might pass into Fujimaru's hands..."

All that said, Bloody Monday is not accidentally ham-fisted. Unlike the more common situation in which manga is authored by a single writer/artist (in the case of many popular manga, with assistants), this manga has a writer, and not just does the manga have a dedicate writer, it has a writer with a prolific career, which includes novels and screenplays in addition to manga. "Ryo Ryumon" is a pen name of Tadashi Agi (another pen name, shared by brother and sister Yuko and Shin Kibayashi), who, as Seimaru Amagi, wrote Kindaichi Case Files and Remote, as Yuma Ando write Psychometrer Eiji and as As Yuya Aoki wrote Getbackers, Psycho Busters and as Tadashi Agi wrote Drop of the Gods. For better or worse, this is apparently as dumb as it wants to be.

Manga Spotlight: Animal Land
Volume 1
By Makoto Raiku
Released by Kodansha Comics

Makoto Raiku's Pokemon meets Death Note, Zatch Bell (comparison is made, not just because the human half of the central partnership works with his cute avatar through a magic book, but also because he's an alienated, remarkably intelligent teen) got a decent run in North America, with Viz publishing 25 of the manga's 33 volumes and Cartoon Network airing 77 of the anime's 150 episodes. The series could be amazingly bizarre, such as with its Italian pop star, famous for his song about groping breast, and it could be nice and nice heartfelt, and as such, though not a hit, it had fans who were particularly fond of the series.

Beyond a number of one shots and short manga about motor biking and school kids contending with supernatural threats, Raiku's Zatch Bell follow-up has been Animal Land, which helped launched Kodansha's monthly Bessatsu Shounen Magazine in 2009.

While Animal Land shares some qualities with Zatch Bell, no one is going to accuse Raiku of repeating the same trick. This one is Pokemon with natural brutality; Wild Kingdom with breathtaking manga weirdness.

In Animal Land, a baby is abandoned into a river by his mother... though he's pre-verbal, the trauma imparts some psychological issues that he needs to work through in this volumes. Swept into "Animal Land," he's taken in by a tribe of tanuki - the mischievous "raccoon dogs" that Mario turned into in his third Super outing, that served as the stars of Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata's ecological epic Pom Poko, that are all over just about any work that evoke Japanese animal folklore... though Animal Land's tanuki don't have the mythically attributed ability to change shapes.

The animals of this manga are anthropomorphized to varying degrees. Some wear some clothes and use tools, while others are strictly more naturalistically depicted. Unsurprisingly, the tanuki are the most humanized set of characters, with each expressing their own personality through a distinctively cartoon face set apart from their furry body in a way that makes them look like humans in animal suits and make-up. It's easy to miss in his small cover space, but Kurokagi, the scarred wildcat who wears a cape and hakama pants is given a decidedly blue sheen to shade to his fur in the manga's original color introductory pages that definitely isn't the black that his name suggest.

Yet, this isn't the sort of animal story that begs the question "what do they eat" or which features eternally frustrated predators. There are plenty of bits here that are more Warner Herzog than Walt Disney. In fact, the fauna devote a lot of their energy to eating each other, or fighting over food. Though they're frolicking on the covers, the tanuki are introduced with the critters trying catch fish and apportion them to the tribe while discussing a member's parents' recent fatal encounter with a pair of predators. In that scheme, the colony of tanuki live a hard scrabble existence gathering food and desperately trying not to become dinner for big cats and the like.

From this harsh starting point Animal Land is going somewhere, but I'm not quite sure this first volume works to convince readers that the manga is worth sticking with.

As Raiku points out in his end notes "this baby has the mysterious ability to speak with all kinds of animals. It's kind of like a powered-up version of the human ability of 'speech' ... It's this power that is taking the story into some pretty wild directions. " While he's on the path to becoming a sort of interpreter between animals, in this volume he is less a character than he is a problem for the for the befuddled tanuki.

These tanuki are earnest, doing their best, but child like, especially in how they're at the mercy of their environment. Their perspective takes the manga right into some juvenile poo jokes and follows their not-particularly-bright-ness into some very obvious plot twists. The focus on the endearing, but precariously close to inept animals leads to an issue where Animal Land is neither fish nor fowl. It seems like it's for young kids, but it doesn't seem appropriate for them.

A recent study has shown that the human brain is wired to pay attention to animals. However, I'd observe that while some adults remain consciously fascinated by animals, most children are. While kids are apt to latch onto any chance to see animals in action, all the time spent dealing with social interactions and human issues would seem to desensitize that impulse. Grown-ups might pause if a nature documentary comes up while clicking around channels, especially if it's Shark Week, but few are going to the zoo on an off day if they aren't taking the kids for an outing. This feels like it puts Animal Land in line with the anime/manga that attempt to grab kids attention with subjects like bugs or dinosaurs (yes, I know both are technically animals.)

It terms of whether the book is actually appropriate for kids, Raiku depicts quite a harrowing scene of the mother abandoning her baby, and while this might be a barrier for particularly young audiences, the real issue is how violent the manga can be. I've read seinen action manga that can be less vicious. If you don't want to give violent manga to a kid, the tanuki perspective scenes of kaiju sized wild cats ripping into each other, with the ensuing torn flesh, blood and wounds aren't going to make the cut.

It's not an entirely winning first volume, weakened by the chance that a reader is going to think that the manga is not for them, and not something that they should pass down to a younger reader.

It doesn't get there in the first volume, but Animal Land is going somewhere. It turns into a really weird epic that isn't going to prompt shounen readers to question whether they're reading something for a particularly young crowd. The connotations of a basket carrying a baby, set afloat in a river prove to be relevant to the manga, with that baby growing up to be a kid closer to a mythological hero than to Tarzan. It becomes a swords and sandals epic with teeth and claws, with wars between armies of animals and long sequences of lions mauling each other. And, it's a Raiku manga, so it is also prone to be goofy as all hell, with music numbers that go on a dozen of pages. It's a unique formula that that isn't quite convincing in its infant stage, but which becomes more attention commanding as it matures.


Manga Spotlight: Gen: Indie Manga from the Tokyo Underground
Read Issues 1-3 Free at

From its web site "GEN (gen) is pronounced with a hard G as in “get.” It comes from the Japanese kanji which can be translated as “original,” as used in the word ?? (genin) meaning “the origin."

The monthly digital (PDF) manga anthology series offers a selection of ("Seinen is for those who demand to see their lives reflected beyond the playgrounds of childhood") doujinshi (" indie or underground") including

Naoto heads for the city to find the father who abandoned him as a child. He is determined to get vengeance. But Noato finds out it won’t be that easy. Dad is a champion boxer. Naoto must train to face his own father for the Japan feather weight champion title match.
Nakamura Shige

VS Aliens
Kitaro had never really spoken with his classmate, the nice and proper, Ms. Segawa before. But to his surprise she suddenly confronts him one day out of the blue. Ms. Segawa exclaims that she has seen an alien! And that alien is none other than their mutual classmate, the cute and popular Ms. Sakuma. Sure, Kitaro thinks, right, an alien. But is she telling the truth? Is there more to this mystery or is it some elaborate prank?
Suzuki Yu

A masked man appears to a band of soldiers. He goes quietly and joins the ranks of prisoners of war. But his mask holds a secret. His quiet demeanor may not be what it seems. The man in the mask holds powers that unfold just in time to rescue innocent lives about to be executed at the whims of a mad ruler.
Mihara Gunya

A young woman who invites a stranger in out of the rain is berated by her overly controlling mother. When the stranger hears voices coming from a supposedly empty closet they discover that there may be more to the unused space than meets the eye. Secrets and forgotten memories that lie deep in the unconscious manifest themselves in reality in this metaphysical journey.
Karino Arisa

Sold out of the back door of an otherwise straight bordello to clientele with a taste for young boys, Wanu is the brothel boy of the famed Kamiki whorehouse. The Japanese aristocrats and samurai who frequent this brothel must be discrete and the despicable owner is much obliged to keep things that way. Meanwhile, Wanu’s soul is trapped in a vessel on loan to the homo-erotic fantasies of important men, until he is visited by the mysterious soul catcher.
Karino Arisa

Sorako lives an ordinary life. And this is an ordinary story. She has friends and family, loves her dog, thinks about life, and occasionally looks for work (kinda). These are the adventures into a typical girl’s life.
Fujimura Takayuki

Alive is a collection of melancholy love stories saturated with sadness. Characters struggle to connect with one another but never quite succeed. They are essentially alone. A world that is dark and disturbing—suicide is constantly contemplated and feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and suppressed sexuality surface as identity itself becomes a terribly fragile thing. But there is hope.
Hajime Taguchi

In North American manga parlance, "doujinshi" tends to call to mind unofficial, adult spins on known pop culture properties, but the world of self-published manga has a far wider range of purposes than just depicting bad things happening to naked anime heroines and a venerable tradition that saw the launches of talents like Masamune Shirow and CLAMP.

Personally, I couldn't ask for a better profile for a manga anthology. It's pretty valid given that I'm something like its target audience, but a dominant slice of my favorite manga is seinen. I certainly favor its purview of stories that are either more about living in the world than conquering it or escapist works for busy people. I also have an appreciate for manga that is experimental, unconventional or raw. I even like the idea of its format. As digital manga expands, it's nice to have a PDF, not locked into one venue or reader.

Yet, while nothing here is meritless, the actual Gen does not manage to conform to the ideal that I had for promising sounding collection. There are issues with the anthology versus what I wanted it to be and there are issues with what the collection series deliver on their own terms.

From its description, I'd drawn the expectation that Gen would be developing territory outside of what's let in by the editorial gatekeepers of major manga anthologies. Yousuke Abe's piercing rendering of cover women certainly bolstered the impression. In practice, it's not as far out as something like the semi-alternative Ikki, to say nothing of more avante garde or underground extreme.

Gen collects a diverse spectrum of works with solid premises, from a sports story with a dramatic personnel edge to a kinetically violent chronicle of swords and fists, to a school relationship story with something supernatural serving as a catalyst and/or metaphor, to an unembellished look at young adult existential unease. Far from being carbon copies, each Gen series has its own identity, and yet, you will not have to be a terribly well read manga consumer to find each reminiscent of other works in the medium.

It's ironic given that Gen's manga concern themselves with outsiders or alienated, but then again, that's the domain of a hell of a lot of manga. For example, there's a tradition of boxing manga from the classic works like Ikki Kajiwara and Tetsuya Chiba's hardscrabble tale Tomorrow's Joe to more recent works like Mitsuru Adachi's Katsu! and George Morikawa's Hajime no Ippo.

These are mainstream shonen manga that ran (or in Ippo's case, runs) in mainstream anthologies like Shonen Sunday and Weekly Shonen Magazine. Wolf barely branches off from that lineage. It's not just that this manga calls to mind similarities elsewhere, none aim at radically reworking the genre. There isn't anyone swinging for the fences with a spectacular success/failure.

In terms of the actual execution, the biggest problems aren't necessarily the obvious hurtles. The issue is less whether you could put red marks over mistakes in the illustration, dialog and localization and more the reminders that creating great manga is difficult. It's not just writing and illustration as distinct talents, but the ability to bring it all together towards telling a story. With access to resources like Pixiv, North American readers have points of comparison for the artistic range on display in Gen. While this collection's doujinshi are a bit more narratively ambitious than a lot of what is seen online, its faults and merits can be placed in context with other works being produced.

Consistently, there are problems with how the manga communicates with the reader. Some like Kamen seem to be improve, but, across the anthology, there are issues with transitions. A great manga creator can anticipate how the reader processes what they're seeing and use it to their advantage such that the medium embellishes the story being told. The implied meter as the eyes go between panels and pages can reflect the speed of a conversation, the beat of action or the tension drawing towards horror. A skilled manga author should at least lay out the page such that the reader doesn't have to think about reading regardless if they're a voracious manga-vour or someone who has trouble with the medium. Here the way one panel leads into the next, pages flow together, or chapters lead out or in can be difficult to track. I found the frame of the manga over or under shooting my position such that I had to re-read and recheck where I was; verifying that the people, timeline and story beats were who/where the seemed at first glance. The two page spread PDF format doesn't help, but the real issue is with how panels, pages and chapters are laid out.

The problems framing the stories are exacerbated by and exacerbate the writers' other flaws such that there is a tendency for the manga to come across as unanchored. For example, Kamen is set in a sort of no-place that has very specific historical design, but also European or at least non-Asian influence. But then, it has too much negative space. Factored in with transition issues and the manga seems slightly lost. By the same token, Souls' mystery and etherealness shift into problematic confusion. The narrative bumpiness plays into tenuous framing of the boxing scenes of Wolf such that its handling of the sport is robbed some credibility. None of this amounts to unreadable manga, but by the same token, it's a considerable part of what lends Gen its unpolished distinctiveness.

Criticizing work for being both insufficiently daring and insufficiently honed in its fundamentals feels a bordering on contradictory. That said, the description of the anthology did sound like it was working with the potential for something like punk manga. Unfortunately, little of Gen's works embrace its lack of polish such that it becomes a virtue. Mainstream manga can be so weird and diverse that maybe it's difficult find space outside the conventional without getting really avant garde. "Alive," for example deals with empty sex, depression and suicide is a fairly harsh, but ultimately affirmative fashion. It's not miles apart from Inio Asano's work, which has run Shogakukan's Weekly Young Sunday and has been adapted into a live action movie starring a well known starlet. By manga's measure, the ambitions here are unmistakably towards the conventional. Taken in isolation, without the context of Gen's mission statement, these works would look like the product of artists building their craft while working on familiar stories. If there's any rejection or response to conventional manga here, it's buried.

The net is that Gen is an endearing effort. I believe that I'm far from the only manga commentator that hopes it does well, but fond its identity more exciting than content. The manga possesses the potential to develop into interesting works, but each series inspires mill curious more than any possess the critical mass that would make them must reads. The ambitions here are laudable. Hopefully it finds support. Hopefully it finds its voice. Unfortunately, the results aren't as compelling as the articulated vision.




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