Reread of Monster by Naoki Urasawa

I often come across people who enjoy comic books, but never have made the plunge into Manga. I think this is largely because there is an perception of manga as being quirky, comic, and romantic. The truth is that Manga spans many different genres, many of which would appeal to typical comic book fans.

One of the first Mangas I would recommend to comic book fans looking to venture into the medium would be Monster by Naoki Urasawa. The premise of Monster is that a brilliant Japanese surgeon (Kenzo Tenma) chooses to save a boy (Johan) rather than attending to a political figurehead that is rushed into the same hospital. This noble pursuit means disaster to his career, but this is only the beginning of his problems. A string of murders at the hospital is pinned on Tenma and he becomes a fugitive. Now on the run, Tenma seeks to clear his name, but more importantly — to stop the killer before more lives are taken.

Monster 1I read this series with the now out-of-print paperback editions of this book, but I now see that they have a 2-in-1 omnibus collection just starting called The Perfect Edition. I am dying to get my hands on these books! Urasawa is as good as any artist in the business and the oversized editions should complement his vivid and detailed artwork.

The first volume was released on July 14, 2014 and they are on a schedule to release a new volume every three months. The original paperbacks released in the US came in eighteen volumes, so I suspect that the Perfect Edition will contain nine volumes in total.

Urasawa is very good at blending intricate plot lines and balances the large, but unique character sheet well. There are many mysteries that are revealed throughout the course of the narrative, although some explanations were a little shallow.

I have already read the series twice and I suspect that Monster is a graphic novel that I will read more times again. It is lengthy, spanning 162 chapters, but it never feels stretched thin or meandering. For those who like psychological thrillers or horror and are looking to get into Manga, this is the place to start.

Science Fiction in Seoul, Korea

There has not been much activity as of late on this blog, primarily for one reason. I recently moved with my family from our comfortable, suburban home in the USA to Seoul, Korea. The amount of work that goes into relocating across the globe is daunting, to say the least.

But alas, one month after arriving, I have mostly settled in.

For those who are less familiar with the country, science fiction is an active part of the culture. There is a large influence of Japanese culture and bookstores have large sections devoted to manga. American dramas are also popular and many of my coworkers enjoy watching Game of Thrones. Despite the mix of Western and Japanese influence, Korean culture and lifestyle has its own identity. It is hard for me to describe in words, but there are many cute toys, cheerful and upbeat pop music groups, and light-hearted, humorous television shows. I contrast this with American culture, which seems to have a fascination with the dark and gritty.

imageWork has taken up a majority of my time, with language training also taking up a bunch. Many coworkers have asked me what my hobbies are, to which I reply reading, writing, hanging out with friends, and eating good meals. I have also tried a new hobby that is popular among younger people — Gundam modeling. Based on the popular anime, Gundam modeling (or GunPla) is a plastic modeling kit with hundreds of pieces that snap together to make a Japanese robotic mech unit with moveable joints. It has a sometimes extreme devotion, with particular skill required to cut, sand, and properly paint the model before assembly.

I’m under the impression that science fiction hasn’t been taken seriously by older audiences in Korea, but is growing in its popularity for all ages. Original creations of manga and literature are also growing in popularity. I can now read the Korean alphabet, but am barely started in comprehending the language. As encouragement, I picked up a short story collection called Distant Tales by Kim Boyoung. Her writing has been compared to Ted Chiang. Unfortunately, translating is not as simple as copying and pasting text into Google Translate (I foolishly tried this unsuccessfully).

This month, I will take my kids to Comic World, which is supposed to be a pretty cool convention with cosplay. Since my kids adore superheroes, it will be good to find an activity that joins two cultures together.

I expect my blog activity will be sparse in the coming months, considering that my reading activity has dropped to all time lows. I’d like to say I will be remedying it, but I foresee that work, language training, travel, and city life will continue to absorb most of my daily life. I hope to stay active enough in reading to continue posting reviews on Adventures in SciFi Publishing and perhaps on this blog, sharing a broadened perspective that I will gain by living in Eastern culture.

Must-Read Manga: Naoki Urasawa

I go through Manga spurts — typically gravitating toward the SF story lines with titles such as Akira, Ghost in a Shell, and Cowboy Bebop. But SF fans would be remiss to pass over Naoki Urasawa. He interweaves intricate plot lines, has deep characters, and has a skill at writing with suspense. They are the kind of stories that leave you thinking about the psychological thrill-ride that Urasawa brings you on.

There are two series in particular that are, in my mind, required reading — and a third that I hope to start shortly:

monster

Urasawa kills it in his manga, Monster. Forgive my pun, for it’s the suspenseful tale about a serial killer and an altruistic doctor who is on the run, accused of committing the killer’s crimes. The characters, the plot, the pacing, the art, the suspense, the dialog — every element of this manga — is just spot on. I am only four volumes in, but am completely addicted to this series.

Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a Japanese surgeon who goes to make a name for himself in Germany to avoid working in the shadow of his adept, but older brother. His talents are unmatched in his new hospital and he soon finds himself operating on people deemed more important rather than those in the greatest need. This conflict of morals come to a pass when he saves a young boy against the administrations direction, leaving the mayor to die fatally in the hands of a lesser surgeon. The outcome of this decision has grave consequences for his life, his career and for a stream of future events.

This is a brilliant piece of work that deserves to be read by anyone with even a slight interest in manga.

20th century boys

For those with a bit more patience and a penchant for the strange and speculative, Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys is nearly equal to the much more straight-forward story arc of Monster. The story flashes between the late sixties, when a group of friends formed a secret club, to the nineties, when their childhood comes back to haunt them. It’s a story about how these boys band together to save the world, although the apocalypse and their role in it are in the early stages little more than a conspiracy. I’m still early into this series and it wasn’t until the end of the first volume that this one started to resonate with me.

pluto

I haven’t read Pluto yet, but I figured I’d toss in another popular series by Urasawa. This is on my to-be-read pile, with even a deeper sci-fi element about a future where robots pass as humans. Given that I am a big fan of books like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I expect that I will love this series as well.

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.