Catching up with Manga

Akira TitleTitle: Akira, Vol. 1

Author: Katsuhiro Otomo

Illustrator: Katsuhiro Otomo

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

I have been meaning to get into Manga for a while. So if you are looking for a well-informed review of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal work, you may have found the wrong spot. In fact, it was only recently that I learned that it is pronounced “MAHN-ga,” not “MAYN-ga.” Perhaps I am premature in writing a review on a genre I have so little knowledge of, but we’re here to have fun and I’d hate to let a lack of experience get in the way. So after taking part in a guilty pleasure of mine — seeking out the internet for lists of the greatest (in this case) manga of all time — I settled on Akira for my introduction to manga.

As a precursor to the cyberpunk movement, the 1982 graphic novel tells the story of members of a street gang in Neo Tokyo, a fledgling city recovering from the nuclear bombs dropped during WWIII. The story begins with the gang encountering a boy with elderly features and a strange telekinetic ability. His sudden appearance in the middle of the freeway sends gang member, Tetsuo, to the hospital.

akira1The gang’s leader, Kaneda, is macho, reckless, and impulsive. So when his fellow gang member is injured, you can expect that he will stop at nothing to bring justice to the man-child who caused his bike to crash. As a reader, there is only partial empathy for Kaneda. He has a hard edge and by occupation is a young street thug. But his ambition is admirable and there are so many mysteries that kept me fully engaged throughout the story. We learn there are several more people like this strange man-child and a secret government agency is fastidiously trying to get them under their control.

Kaneda, who is active in the drug trade, comes across a pill that he learns that is much too powerful for an ordinary person to take, yet multiple organizations are after him to get it back. Tetsuo is released from the hospital and is an entirely different person from the young man Kaneda knew before. The novel is filled with non-stop action and new layers of intrigue.

If Akira is any indication of the type of storytelling and art that comes from manga, I can see myself becoming a big fan. The art is more realistic than typical manga, with near-anatomical proportions. Otomo also has a great sense of perspective and well-crafted detail.

There are six volumes in this series and I expect I will finish all of them in the near future. This was a perfect introduction to manga and I hope to find some more works to acquaint myself better with the genre.

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93370Title: Akira, Vol. 2

Author: Katsuhiro Otomo

Illustrator: Katsuhiro Otomo

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

The second volume of Akira picks up right where the first one left off. It is full of action and we finally get a glimpse of who Akira actually is, although the extent of the experimental wunderkind’s psychic powers still remains a question.

I am really digging this series. It has great action, pacing and such inventive story-telling. In a Western sense, it could be compared to X-Men or Heroes, where a segment of the population has extraordinary supernatural powers, but it has a much different feel. It’s not a superhero story and the contrast between good and evil is not clearly divided. Foes are forced to join together to reach a common goal and the struggle is often focused on a fear of the uncontrollable.

Purists of manga may be critical of the novel’s Western left-to-right layout. It could alter the artistic intent of the story and I find it unnecessary to deviate from the Japanese style of writing. It doesn’t take long to get used to reading backwards.

But that’s about as far as I can criticize this volume. I love the action, I love the premise, and I can’t wait to pick up the next volume.

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Title: Death Note, Vol. 1: Boredom

Author: Tsugumi Ohba

Illustrator: Takeshi Obata

Publisher: VIZ Media

Format: Paperback

Review:

I wasn’t certain what to expect with Death Note. It is well-received among manga fans, but the plot, at its surface, seemed somewhat contrived. It is about a scholarly teenager named Light Yagami, who comes across a lost notebook that gives him the power to kill simply by writing a person’s name in it.

What seems like a novelty, quickly becomes compelling. Light soon encounters a Shinigami (part of a race of death gods), who counsels him in the rules of the notebook. Light learns he must imagine his target’s face for the notebook to actually work and only those who touch the notebook have the power to see the Shinigami.

screen-captureThe story starts out with Light using the notebook for (debatably) noble purposes — he writes in the names of the country’s most vile criminals, saving people from hostage situations and the like. But when Light finds that security agencies are after him, he begins to use the notebook illicitly for his own safety.

Death Note is pure fun. After the first chapter, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it, but the more I read, the more addicted I became. Light is a very bright kid and uses the notebook in very creative ways to thwart his pursuers. This is definitely another winner in the manga category and a series I intend to keep on reading.

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Review of Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison

16099566Title: Star Wars: Darth Vader & the Ghost Prison

Author: Hayden Blackman

Illustrator: Agustin Alessio

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Dark Horse

Review:

The Star Wars universe has been covered in intricate detail. There are hundreds of stories that have graced the pages of various novels, comics, and even the television screen with two installments of the Clone Wars. Many of these stories deal with the universe’s greatest villain, but Darth Vader & the Ghost Prison offers something new — a twist into the mindset of the masked Sith Lord.

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The story begins with the graduation of several new Imperial officers. Cadet Laurita Tohm is at the head of the class and has already been recruited by Grand Moff Tarkin to work aboard the secret Death Star project. A childhood incident has left him crippled, but his mind and determination have brought favored eyes upon him. Following the graduation ceremony, Tohm is lured into a trap as an uprising within the Empire begins to take place. Tohm escapes the insurgency with Darth Vader and cybernetic lieutenant, Moff Trachta, to find a way to save the Empire from the grips of the would-be usurpers.

Darth Vader & the Ghost Prison collects a five-issue miniseries that was difficult to put down. Without hesitation, I read the entire story arc in one swoop, fully immersed in Vader’s struggle to maintain control of the Empire. Laurita Tohm was an interesting character, somewhat unique in his total devotion to the Empire without concern for his own self-advancement.

screen-capture-1The interaction between Tohm, Vader, and Trachta is interesting and natural as they discuss the options of protecting the Emperor from the traitors. Vader is somewhat submissive in these discussions with the Emperor’s presence, keeping his true desire for power at bay. Tohm fully bows down down to Vader’s command, no longer setting his eyes on his personal aspirations, but in trying to please his master. His allegiance in no way makes him a puppet and his devotion raises the attention of the Emperor who makes great plans for the young cadet.

Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison has great action, excellent artwork, interesting characters, and surprisingly a fresh look into the mindset of Darth Vader. I highly recommend it.

Review: Orchid #1 by Tom Morello

Title: Orchid #1

Author: Tom Morello

Illustrator: Scott Hepburn

Rating: 

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Review:

In a dystopian future, the polar ice caps have melted and the world is flooded. High grounds belonged to the rich and the poor “bridge people” became enslaved. To make matters worse, the environmental shift smashed the Earth’s genetic codes and evolutionary beasts emerged from the waters. Amidst the turmoil, an uprising is stirring. Orchid, our heroine, accepts her lot in life — she is a prostitute who will do whatever it takes to care for her family. But when she finds herself entangled with a revolutionary leader named Simon, her life is turned upside-down.

The premise of Orchid is nothing new — in fact it falls right in line with the latest dystopian trends. Fortunately, Morello has a unique take on the trope. Orchid is somewhat cliche — a gritty, down-on-her-luck prostitute who is also a benevolent caretaker for her family. She has a rough edge and is scantily-clad with the word “property” tattooed across her chest. With so much self-loathing it is surprising that she could show the love she does toward her family.

What the novel did well is in world-building. I enjoyed the evolutionary monsters, diverse in their levels of grotesqueness. It adds a level of havoc that parts from the calculating oppression they suffer from the soldiers. The beasts are indiscriminate in their attacks, really helping to flesh out the world.

There was a tendency throughout the novel to info-dump and in fact, it was an unfortunate start to the novel. Following the initial pages of background history, we are led into an exciting action scene of a failed revolution attempt that was perhaps the most riveting of the entire novel. While I don’t have a glowing review of the first collection, I do think this series has a lot of potential. The dialog is a bit inconsistent — sometimes it comes across as dark and serious, other times as comic or pulpy. But overall, the characters are strong enough that they have room to develop and there are many ways the story can evolve.

I enjoyed the artwork and on several panels there is great architectural detail that expounds upon the world-building found in the text. Even in panels with less detail, the action can be visualized, like in the 2-panel sequence shown to the right.

Overall, I felt that the first Orchid novel focused a little too much on world-building and it could have been strengthened with a stronger story arc. The premise is strong and the characters have a level of complexity to them. The idea of monsters evolving because of a flood has little plausibility, but it is the element of the story that I find most intriguing. For comic fans, I think Orchid is worth giving a shot.