Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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More Manga That Ought to be Licensed in the US

Takemitsu Zamurai by Matsumoto Taiyo and Eifuku Issei

By McCamy Taylor

Matsumoto Taiyo is probably the best known mangaka that you have never heard of in the U.S. The live action film version of his manga Ping Pong is a cult classic that transcends its subject. Blue Spring was another successful live action adaptation from manga. And the anime of Tekkon Kinkreet (Black & White) won prizes all over the world. However, the first work by this mangaka to be released in the U.S., No. 5 was dropped by Viz after two volumes. If you look around, you can probably find a copy of the Tekkon Kinkreet manga translated into English. If you want to read the rest of Matsumoto Sensei’s work, you will have to learn Japanese or read it online.

So, why Takemitsu Zamurai (Bamboo Samurai) and not one of the other titles? First, there is the subject matter. If you follow anime and manga, you have probably noticed that the most popular series in the U.S. are those that deal with Japanese culture. What are Hayao Miyazaki’s most popular films in America? The Japanese folklore themed Totoro , Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away . Rumiko Takahashi has had a number of popular series, but her big success in the U.S. came with Inu Yasha . Two of the longest running manga titles in the States are samurai epics Vagabond and Blade of the Immortal .

Subject wise, Takemitsu Zamurai has everything a Japanophile could want. The manga is set in Edo (old Tokyo) and tells the story of Senou Souichirou, a peace loving ronin who exchanges his sword for a bamboo blade. His past is a mystery. Just why are all those samurai trying to slice him up? He is a man of contradictions, a deadly fighter who opens a school for the local children and who pawns his weapon in order to save one of them from slavery.

Next, there is character. No one wants to read a stuffy manga about history, even if there are lots of bloody sword battles. Good writing requires good characterization, and the hero of Takemitsu Zamurai is one of the sweetest, most charming deadly swordsmen you will ever encounter in literature. Maybe not quite Rurouni Kenshin sweet---but at least Souichirou has a more believable hairstyle.

Last but not least, there is art. If you have read some of my other manga reviews, you know that story comes first in Japan and art comes second. This is the exact opposite of the U.S. That means that many titles which are popular in Japan will not make the cut in this country, because of poor quality art.

In Takemitsu Zamurai the art comes first. And second and third. There is no way you can read this manga without noting the artwork, which is a modern, stylized version of old Japanese drawing. Some people will be turned off by the art, which sometimes seems to overwhelm the story. However, if you like your graphic fiction to include cutting edge drawing, this is a story for you. If you are one of those people who likes to pick up well illustrated children’s story books, this one is for you---and you will not have to read about Timmy the Tiny Tortoise.

And now, a super secret bonus about anime conventions:

If you made it to the end of this manga review, there is a chance that you are seriously interested in anime and manga. In which case, you may have thought about going to an anime con. Here are a few tips which I jotted down on my recent trip to A-Kon in Dallas.

  1. Bring earplugs. Even if your room is the one at the end of the corridor on the hotel’s highest floor, the room next door will be running an all night smash and scream party. Believe it.
  2. Timing is everything. Checking in at 2 instead of 4 can save you an hour when you are registering for your room. And waiting in lines is one of the main activities at anime cons. On Friday, I spent 3 ¼ hours standing in lines. Tickets, elevators, shows---any one of these can eat up hours of your weekend, unless you plan ahead.
  3. Bring a camera. There is no way you will ever be able to describe the guy in the fully operational seven foot tall mecha outfit or the skimpiness of the cat girl costumes or the sheer gruesomeness of the (twenty or so) Silent Hill zombie nurses.
  4. Bring a shopping bag. I have one of those lightweight, cheap but sturdy mesh bags you get on the border of Mexico. Great for stashing that plush Kirby you could not do without, the Naruto cell phone straps for the kids and the Gundam models you will get around to building one day along with all the other miscellaneous bits of anime advertising.
  5. Bring money. Anime costs. Years ago, as my son persuaded me to buy his first Ramna ½ video the store clerk warned me that anime would get expensive. He should have told me “Smoke crack. It’s cheaper.”
  6. Wear something you would not be ashamed to be seen in by a member of the opposite sex. Unlike comic book cons, which tend to attract lots of men, anime cons are crawling with women. If you want to get up close and personal, consider going as an especially cute and fluffy Pokemon, like Snorlax or Pikachu.
  7. Elevators are not worth losing your life over, even at 11 am on Sunday morning when you have not slept in 72 hours and you have to catch a flight in an hour. See number 2 and consider leaving your room at 10 am instead.

© 2010 McCamy Taylor

McCamy Taylor is the long-fiction editor of Aphelion.

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