Friday, November 23, 2012

Real #12

There is always the argument in western media about the artistic value of comics and video games. And while The Watchmen and no The Walking Dead have pushed comic into a more mainstream awareness, and given some legitimacy to the claim for the comic as an art form  Ico, Limbo, and Braid similarly making the claim for video games. Both forms of entertainment have taken great strides toward becoming accepted as a popular art form.

If I had to nominated a series and artists that are similarly elevating manga, I would choose Tekehiko Inoue's Real. After achieving fame with the Shonen series, Slam Dunk, Real avoids all the common manga tropes to tell a story of depth and character.

With a new volume only being released every November, it is a bit difficult to remember where the story is up to, but included with volume 12 is an 80 page re-cap of the previous 11 volumes, along with character profiles of the 3 main characters and their relationships.

Volume 12 focuses on 19 year old Kiyogawa Togawa, the very driven and proud wheel chair basketball player, who is always pushing himself to be the best he can be, but often finds himself alienating his teammates with his individuality. Tomomi Nomiya makes a brief appearance toward the end, and I'm looking forward to finding out how his trial with the professional team, Tokyo Lightnings, went. I'm not sure I can wait a whole year to find out, I may have to start picking up Weekly Jump when ever Real makes an appearance.

More Info:
Real 12:
Takehiko Inoue's twitter:
Takehiko Inoue's homepage:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Peeping Life - The Perfect Explosion

One of the funniest comedy programs I've seen in a long time. A series of short animations that give peek into real Japanese life, culture, and language. What may at first glance appear to be a caricature of Japan, is actually closer to real life than you imagine. Some of my friends and work colleagues could easily step on screen; the resemblance is uncanny.

The most well known, most viewed skit on youtube is the young couple who are always arguing, they make another classic appearance, along with my favourite couple of the young guy trying to impress his girlfriend with his hip hop skills, also the newlyweds are hilarious. The returning characters are all fantastic, but most of the new characters seem a bit forced, hopefully they can be improved on for the next release.

What makes the series even more impressive is the fact that the scenes are ad-libbed, and it really adds to the flow and natural conversation. I'll have to look into the voice cast, because they do an amazing job.

One other special note I have to make about this series is that it comes with fantastic English subtitles. Whoever translated this series should be proud, a lot of Japanese specific puns and idiosyncracys have been rather cleverly translated in English. Here is the latest trailer, no subtitles on the trailer sorry.

Check out Peeping Life here:
And on Twitter:

Special Others - Have A Nice Day

Pretty excited to be heading to my first live gig in about 12 months. Special Others are a band I found randomly listening to the recommendations at my local Tower Records.

And since it is such a pain in the arse to get myself to a decently sized city, and gigs in Japan are just as likely on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, I'd resigned myself to not being able to catch these guys. But luckily they are playing in Sendai AND on Sunday night.

This album probably features a wider range of styles than their previous releases which where in danger of becoming a bit stale. Still the usual jam band stylings, but with a dose of reggae, rock, and some lower tempo tracks. The first single of the new album is ROOT, I'm not sure what happened to the clip on youtube, but they've taken down the full clip and replaced it with a shortened version. But here it is anyway, enjoy!

More info about Special Others here:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Manga Artists on Twitter

With Twitter being one of the more popular social networks in Japan, it's a good way to keep up with your favourite mangaka. Some recommendations:

Kengo Hanazawa (
The newest artists to pop up on my radar, I wrote about I Am A Hero the other day. And his previous manga, Boys On The Run, received a bit of attention and a movie adaptation.

Takehiko Inoue (
Definitely one of the highest profile mangaka on Twitter. His art is amazing, and he always has so many different projects on the go. Vagabond is a behemoth that I would love to start reading, but with 34 volumes and counting, it's not going to happen soon. Also popular for his basketball themed Slam Dunk and Real. Real is probably my favourite manga series of all time, and I'm not even interested in basketball.

Inio Asano (
Asano is my favourite mangaka. His art is amazing, characters are so well drawn, against some breathtaking inner city backdrops. He writes a lot of small 1-2 volume stories. Solanin was turned into a movie a few years ago. I'm not sure how to describe his current series, Oyasumi Pun Pun. I was very enchanted by the story, setting, and characters when I started, but when you are dealing honestly, bluntly with the topic of awkward teenage boy sexual maturity, things can get... awkward, especially when the main character is also a bird in a human world.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I Am A Hero

The latest zombie wave is sweeping through Japan, although like The Walking Dead, the Z word seems to be forbidden. I've just finished the 3rd volume of this series and no one has thought to mention that the flesh eating violent former deceased are what we commonly refer to as Zombies.

With a cast of characters with unique idiosyncrasies, I originally pegged this series as a Japanese take on Shaun on the Dead. Nerdy guy saves the day, and becomes zombie apocalypse hero. But since the protagonists girlfriend becomes one of the first zombies we encounter in the book, with no princess to save, and due to the comic roots, it's definitely a Japanese take on The Walking Dead.

In I Am A Hero, the zombie apocalypse here is not quiet so total as most other outbreaks, some basic services remain online and available to the survivors.The internet plays a large role in the story, and it'll be interesting to see how the plague develops in a technological advanced society. And I often thought that large urban centers would would be the first places to succumb to chaos, but have you ever seen a zombie climb a staircase or take an elevator? Maybe the metropolis of high rises would be the ideal place to defend and rebuild.

My favourite new series, and it already has publication in Italy and France, hopefully we can see an English realase soon, and I wonder if there are any young Japanese movie directors putting their hands up to direct this.

Space Brothers #19

Or 宇宙兄弟 in Japanese. It's hard to believe this series is now up to volume 19. After the movie earlier in the year, which covered the first 7 volumes, and the anime series that is running too early on Sunday mornings for me to watch, the series seems to be pumping out content and establishing itself as a profitable franchise.

But it seemed to me that the story had stagnated a bit, everyone is still dealing with the fallout from Hibito's accident on the moon. The last few volumes seemed to be going in circles. Mutta getting shuffled around to various projects and training, but now in volume 19 I can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel as Hibito moves on with his career.

I'm a big fan of hard science fiction, Makoto Yukimura's Planetes from 10 years ago being one of my favourites, but it seems that the roles of NASA and JAXA have changed a lot recently. A lot less focus on the manned space flight we see in Uchu Kyodai, but I'm not sure a manga about little wheeled buggies testing dirt on Mars makes for an entertaining read. We need the human drama. So even if there is less need for astronauts in the future, I hope Uchu Kyodai is inspiring Japanese kids to look at the stars and become interested in science and astronomy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Billy Bat #10

One of the things I really enjoy about the story telling of Naoki Urasawa is the meticulous planning that goes into his story lines. So even though the main plot of Billy Bat doesn't progress too much in the latest volume, there are more multi-layered details added with another conspiracy filled story from 1924's Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.

Although this does leave me with a few problems. During the wait for each new volume, I tend to forget the interactions of each story, and the multitude of characters. And after reading several other of Urasawa's series; Monster and 20th Century boys, so of the minor characters tend to re-appear and blend together. Also, with multiple time lines; 1924 in one chapter, 1964 the next, if you're not paying attention, it's easy to lose track the intertwining threads.

But, the timing of the story telling is superb, with both the newly introduced story reaching an exciting climax, and Kevin perched in a precarious position as we wait the next volume. Hopefully the two stories resolve in the next volume as the story threads start to come together and move towards the climax.