Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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The Good, The Bad, and the Lovely

Manga and Anime Reviews

by McCamy Taylor

I would never waste the reader’s time writing about bad manga. However, this month,  I am going to spend more time than usual discussing the art of graphic fiction. And I will close with a couple of anime suggestions.

Before there was Claymore , Yagi Norihiro spent close to a decade writing and drawing the 15 volume manga Angel Densetsu, one of my all time favorites. While this series has not been licensed in the United States, it has been translated and is available online.  The premise is simple enough.  Seiichiro Kitano has the heart of an angel---and the face of a demon. When he is forced to change high schools, his appearance gets him into a load of trouble. The school  guardians (thugs) decide that he is a threat to their authority and challenge him. The good guys----like romantic interest, Ryoko  Koiso, daughter of a karate master---also want to kick his butt. While Kitano never throws a punch in the entire 15 volume high school/martial arts manga, he has an almost supernatural ability to defend himself through sheer endurance and his incredibly scary demeanor.  

This idea sounds like it would be good for about a volume before the running gag gets old. However, Angel Densetsu works, because Kitano really is an angel. A very likable, endearing angel, who transforms the lives of those he encounters.  Don’t get me wrong. This is no “I will keep taking your punches until you love me”  Naruto type tale. The stories are much more clever. The series is also incredibly funny.  Every chapter had me laughing out loud.

Now, I like the art of Angel Densetsu . I think the mangaka does a fine job of contrasting the creepiness of Kitano’s appearance with his  innocent nature. However, compared to American comics and graphic fiction, which often emphasize drawing over story, the quality of the art may seem lacking.  So, I am going to recommend another martial arts manga, one which is as beautiful to look at as Angel Densetsu is plain.

Vagabond is licensed in the United  States and is widely available. The U.S. publisher has even begun to re-release the series in jumbo size volumes, (each book includes several volumes) which can help first time readers save money. An ongoing series at 30 volumes (29 of which are available in the United States) by Inoue Takehiko, Vagabond tells the story  of the historical figure, Miyamoto Musashi, master swordsman and author of  The Book of the Five Rings . If you are in the mood for lots and lots of  historical Japanese fiction combined with sword fighting and a dash of the supernatural, Vagabond is for you.  The story is first rate, with excellent pacing and characterization. But what really sets this one apart is the quality of the art, which would make many American comic artists jealous.

Finally, as promised, I am going to spend a few minutes writing about anime. Many Japanese animations are derived from manga. However, when a work of Japanese graphic fiction is retold in animated form, it is changed. Black and white illustrations become color on the TV or movie screen. And the visual art suddenly becomes all important. A case in point is the animated series Mushi-shi derived from the manga of the same name which I reviewed last month.

While Mushi-shi the manga makes for good reading, if you like imaginative fantasy, the 26 part animated series is a masterpiece. I can not recommend it highly enough. The manga talks about the wonders of  the Japanese landscape, but the anime revels in it. You will be tempted to freeze the DVD in order to  study the images, which are often as beautiful as a classic Japanese woodblock print.

Another fantasy anime series with unusually fine quality art is Mononoke (not to be confused with Princess Mononoke ).  A spin off of the last of the three stories from Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales which has been licensed in the U.S., Mononoke is currently available only on fansubs.  Like Mushi-shi it is set in historical Japan and tells the story of a wandering  magician (referred to as the Medicine Seller ) who is called upon to exorcise mononoke, or supernatural monsters.  He does this by investigating their shape, truth and reason. Once he understands their nature, he can banish the spirits with a supernatural anthropomorphic sword. The art used in this animation is deliberately fantastic----in keeping with the nature of the stories. Unlike Mushi-shi with its spare, classical Japanese style, this anime draws heavily on a number of famous artistic styles, such as that of  Gustav Klimt. Good stories. Art like you have never seen before in an animation.

© 2009 McCamy Taylor

Bio: McCamy Taylor is Aphelion's current Serials and Novellas Editor (if you have a story longer than 7,500 words, or long enough that it would be suitable for publication in two or more installments, she's your girl... er, woman), author of many short stories and longer fiction, here and in other publications, and is now Aphelion torchbearer for the cause of Japanese graphic novels and animation.

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