QuickRecs: Manga Edition

I’ve been on a big manga kick lately, and have managed to suss out some I’ve quite enjoyed. Inside: Orange, Aqua/ARIA, The Gods Lie, Teppu, Pandora Hearts

Orange
Takano Ichigo

I really liked Orange, which kind of surprised me, because on its surface it’s nothing too special, but it manages to handle its premise competently and the characters are full. Takamiya Naho is in her last year of high school when she gets an odd letter claiming to be from her future self, warning her that new-student Kakeru is going to die and she needs to stop it. As it turns out, Kakeru doesn’t just die, he commits suicide, and none of the people in their group of friends ever forgive themselves for letting it happen. I thought Kakeru’s feelings were really well-handled — to the point that I wonder if the author has some experience with this, because of lot of the small details felt very familiar to me. Most importantly, though, Naho and her friends are good people who I want to root for, and the message of the story — that even tiny things can mean a lot, so always tell those around you that you care for them — was a really nice one. I was also pretty impressed how it managed to avoid the rote cliches you get in a lot of high school manga. It’s relatively short — two big volumes — and plotted very tightly. Solid story if you’re someone who likes manga that explore relationships.

(Also, while it was sad, I didn’t find it triggering to read or anything, so if you’re like me and tend to avoid suicide/depression stories you will likely be able to handle this one. YMMV, though, obviously.)

Aqua and ARIA
Amano Kozue

Two-tankobon Aqua and its long-running followup, ARIA, are (on the polar opposite end of the spectrum) the kind of manga that just make you happy manga exists. It’s a bright, optimistic story about people getting a lot out of life, but it’s never eye-rollingly saccharine, just the kind of thing that makes you smile. The series follows Akari, a teenage girl from Earth in the year 2301, who travels to a terraformed Mars to start a new life. When Mars was terraformed, there was more ice-cap melt than intended, causing some established towns to become flooded and boats to become the major mode of transport. Akari moves to the city of New Venice with a dream of becoming an Undine, or someone who gives gondola tours. Mars, now called Aqua, is about a century behind the technology of Earth, and Akari loves the comparatively quaint, quiet lifestyle she finds there. The slice-of-life manga is part sci-fi, part fantasy, and just so damn lovable. It’s about finding joy in the mundane and enjoying time with your friends and yourself. Also loving cats. It’s very much about loving cats.

The English translation was a casualty of Tokyopop’s crash, but there’s a 10th-anniversary edition of the series being released in Japan this year, so hopefully it will come stateside in full soon. It’s such a great, positive comic.

The Gods Lie
Ozaki Kaori

I hate that I liked this manga. It was hammy, melodramatic, over-the-top and 100% Lifetime movie… and I found myself enjoying it anyway. I loved the art and composition, which was clean, crisp, and easy to follow. The characters were likeable. It was short — just five chapters — and went by quickly. And there was nothing literary about it whatsoever. If ever anyone feels like sometimes our standards are to high, just tell them I put this on a recs list.

It’s about a young boy whose life gets complicated after he befriends a girl in his class who lives alone with her little brother. I’m surprised Hallmark hasn’t picked this up for an adaptation yet. I expect one soon.

Teppu
Moare Oota

Back with art, Teppu is a sports drama about a fucked up, highly athletic teenage girl who gets into MMA as a way to take revenge on a classmate for how good her life is. Teppu is a character drama, and it takes a long time to get moving while you get to know anyone, and then unfortunately cuts off at climax due to the author’s illness. The end result is that it’s kind of boring and then as soon as it starts to get interesting it ends, which… sucked. That said, the ride is worth it for the people. It was like one of those zoo safaris where you’re on an uncomfortable hot vehicle with tourists but god damn for a second you were ten feet away from a giraffe and damn, it was so cool.

The character design in this manga is AMAZING. The women are strong, unique-looking, and drawn with an eye toward individuality, not attractiveness. Look at these girls! The main cast is entirely female, with (I think) three male characters who matter at all? The only romance subplot is even between two of the girls. I also appreciated the author’s exploration of the way women’s fighting is treated, that no matter how awesome they are they still get sidelined, and I thought it was very clever to have spectators going on and on about how women never have KO fights before showing fight after fight with hard-hitting KOs. I also thought the scene where Natsuo asks Karin why there are tons of round girls at a women’s match and Karin replies that it’s to cater to the presumed-male audience was a nice moment of commentary. More than anything though, I just loved seeing all the different body types, and that not a single panel was male-gazey.

I liked Natsuo a lot — I really found myself rooting for her character, not as an athlete but as someone headed toward personal growth. I think at the end what she does learn is that even people who seem happy can be messed up, and I don’t think it’s antithetical to that for her to resolve to come back, train harder, and beat Eyebrows. The very fact that she does come back says tons about how different a person she is at the end than the beginning. I do wish we’d gotten more about her backstory before the manga ended, though.

Pandors Hearts
Mochizuki Jun

Pandora Hearts is the most plot-heavy entry on this list. It stars a 15-year old boy named Oz, who at his coming-of-age ceremony is ambushed and thrown into a dimension known as the Abyss. The Abyss is populated by creatures called Chains, who are constantly trying to trick humans into pulling them into the mortal realm, where they devour people. While he’s trapped, Oz meets a girl named Alice whom others call the Black Rabbit. She appears to be a Chain but it also oddly human, and Oz is convinced he knows her somehow. He agrees to bring her into the mortal world with his power, and she helps him escape on the condition he help her find her lost memories. Things quickly spiral into intrigue, mystery, and fantasy. Pandora Hearts is delightfully complex without ever being complicated. There’s rarely not something happening, some element of mystery being revealed, but I never found it confusing or hard to follow.

I’m 7 of 24 tankobon into it right now and am still completely enthralled by the world and the story. It is something of a sausage party — Alice is really the only major female character, though there are a handful of female side characters — and it has an issue with Evil Is Sexy that pops up somewhere around the 30th chapter, but honestly it was compelling enough it didn’t really bother me (also, the mangaka is a woman which helps maybe?).

The only thing about it is that a hunk from about chapter 10 – 20 is done by an absolutely abysmal scanlation team and the thing starts to become a real slog because of it. It’s honestly a huge credit to Mochizuki’s writing that I didn’t have trouble keeping up, and I’m probably just going to buy the whole series and then reread the early tankos.

edit:

So I just finished PH and spoilers spoilers spoilers:

a) Holy fuck that was amazing

b) The ending was… cruelly sad, almost unnaturally so — surely terrible things don’t have to happen to literally the entire cast? It was all bitter, no sweet. It was certainly a powerful and literary ending, but it almost felt… unfair, as a reader? I think it falls kind of under the “grimdark is just as unrealistic as superfluff” clause. Surely there was a happy medium between the tea party fluff endinig and “everyone who doesn’t die which is like 2 people is an emotional wreck for a century at which point the only two still alive get to be happy for 15 minutes before they die too.”

But man, this whole thing was tightly, brilliantly plotted and even the villains were compelling, full characters.

I think a better ending would have been: have Oz die, and Alice finally get to have a normal human life. Vince + Ada, Gil + Alice, and sure, Liam + Sharon (this was a weird choice; it was basically trauma bonding in the grimdark ending, where they were both so miserable they clung to the only other survivor of the whole ordeal), and then as the years pass we see them all enjoying life but missing Oz, and then it ends with Gil getting to see new!Oz once before he dies, and then we can see Gil and Alice’s son or grandson with new!Oz, showing that even though they had to wait a lifetime, in a way they’re all together.

I also think that if Vincent had brought back everyone instead of just Alice and Oz it would have worked really well. So he shows up with the reincarnations of Break, Elliot, Leo, Oscar, etc., as well, and then Gil tells them all the story, and they’re all together again finally, and Gil gets to die happy, having had the tea party at last. It’s still sad, but it’s also hopeful.

The whole Shakespearean Tragedy ending is such a… letdown, in a way. It’s just not satisfying; the authorial hand is too apparent, and it feels less like a natural conclusion than a way to spite readers.

Doesn’t really change my overall opinion though.

27 Comments

  1. illhousen says:

    Oh, hey, I’ve read Pandora Hearts. Dropped it at a late point due to translations running out and me not being inclined to check on them once a month, but the ride was good while it lasted. Probably should get back to it at some point.

    The flaws you noted are there, but they’re less irritating than they could have been due to the absence of malice.

    1. Act says:

      they’re less irritating than they could have been due to the absence of malice.

      That’s a good way to put it.

      It’s 24 tankos total, which is mid-lenth. Incidentally, why are tankos so cheap in Japan (~300 yen a pop) and so expensive in the US? Are we not able to cheaply print them for some reason? What are the prices like for you?

      1. illhousen says:

        Ah… prices?

        But let’s see… Seems to be that one manga volume typically costs between 6$ and 20$, depending on brand recognition, production quality and other such factors.

        1. Act says:

          :P I generally read online and then buy the stuff I really like, because filling bookshelves makes me happy.

          $10 – $20 is pretty typical here. One more reason to learn Japanese I guess.

          1. illhousen says:

            Manga never got truly popular in Russia, so a lot of good stuff is unavailable locally, plus translations tend to be a gamble. I can order stuff from overseas, but it’s a lengthy and costly process.

      2. EnviTheFool says:

        I remember reading somewhere that US pricing had something to do with pricing them like one would a western comic: since a 30-page comic would cost around 3$ or so, the price would scale for longer volumes like manga. Then Tokyopop cut the prices down and that’s how the current pricing was created.

        I’m not sure if that’s completely true, but at least that’s how it worked out here in Finland. When manga came over, the publishers took the pricing from the most similar thing available (Donald Duck Pocketbooks) and as a result our prices have settled to 6€ per volume (but on the flipside we don’t get color pages or hard covers and the series that get translated varies wildly).

        On the positive note, at least the DVD-collections don’t cost around 200$ in the west.

        1. Act says:

          I have a few Japanese tankos of Tsukihime, and it’s interesting, the binding and cover are clearly done in a more economical way, but the effect is still super polished and something I like having on my shelf. I’d rather they not bind them like novels and sell them for better prices than have to shell out $12 for a single volume.

          They’ve actually gotten more expensive since I was a kid, as have books in general, which makes some sense because of the way the print industry panicked in the 2010s. But you’d think that cheaper production > lower prices > more customers since more affordable would mean more profit. IDK. It’s just always confused me how you can buy comics like candy in Japan but they’re basically a luxury here.

          DVD prices don’t really affect me as a non-tv-watcher :P

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          1. Roarke says:

            Tsukihime manga: Still very good.

          2. EnviTheFool says:

            I don’t necessarily have anything against the tanko-like manga, but I do own a couple of volumes where I’m fairly certain that pages will start to fall out if I open a certain section too wide, so it makes me appreciate owning some hardcover ones that I don’t have to worry about harming too easily.

        2. Heatth says:

          But why are western comics so expensive in the US anyway? Over here, Brazil, comics much cheaper. Right now, less than 3 dollars would buy a 60 pages American comic (we usually bundle them as a single issue is to little for us).

          That was something that really stuck out for me when I went to the US. Overall, things tend to be cheap there, even when you factor the convertion costs (Dollar is more valuable than Real). Comics, both manga and super hero stuff, were notable exceptions, with prices that would only make sense if the currency were equivalent, which they are not.

          1. Act says:

            Shooting in the dark because I’ve always wondered this too, but maybe it’s an exclusivity/gatekeeping thing?

            1. Heatth says:

              Maybe inconsiously, but that seems like bad business. And the superhero comic industry is always complaining about how they are not as big anymore, so gatekeeping seems counterintuitive.

              I did notice comics were notably higher quality than over here, though. Like, expensive paper and what not. A tanko I bought there was twice as thick as the ones were have here, and the marvel comics were all shinny. But I don’t understand why make such high quality comics anyway. The ones were have here are sturdy enough (well, most, some are crap), and it is not like most people want to preserve them anyway.

              Reply
      3. GoldenFalls says:

        This video goes pretty in-depth about manga prices in the US and their history:

         

        https://youtu.be/AXaxbO26Pno

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        1. GoldenFalls says:

          *light novels, though it does touch on manga

  2. Socordya says:

    The main cast is entirely female, with (I think) three male characters who matter at all?

     

    There’s four: Brazilian Guy, Japanese MMA Guy, Karate Advisor Guy, and the hero’s brother. Though you could argue that Karate Advisor doesn’t really matter that much.

    The only thing which disappointed me in this manga is the use of a trope which pops up in stories where there’s some sort of tournament: the matches are set up in a very convenient way so that the hero can fight every character that matters  and end up against her main rival in the final. The result is I’m never really worried the hero won’t win a fight until the last one.

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    1. Act says:

      Yeah, that’s a good point. I also think the abrupt end of the manga probably had an effect here — there were so mant character conflicts that needed to happen and then suddenly this was the only time to have them, so while maybe in a universe where the entire thing is seen through the fight with, say, Sanae could have happened at another time, everything had to be set up so it happened now. The result is a lot of convenient plotting.

      1. Roarke says:

        Yeah, I wish we’d gotten more of the Sanae conflict, actually. I found her to be a compelling character despite her actually being kinda flat. It sucked to have her stuff basically sidelined. She was a beast.

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    2. Roarke says:

      Hey, I loved Karate Advisor. He was a riot. I think he was also one of two, maybe three coaches who legitimately cared about his athlete’s emotional state beyond “how does this make her a better fighter.”

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  3. Roarke says:

    If you liked Orange, you may like, uhh it’s got a weird name.

    “The Town Where Only I Am Missing”, is I think as close as I can get. Short but sweet manga about a dude who goes back in time mentally to try and solve some missing children case as a child.

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    1. Act says:

      Neat. Looks like the loc team said fuck it and just called it ERASED. Wiki claims the literal translation is “The Town Without Me.”

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      1. Roarke says:

        Regardless of whether Wiki is right or wrong, I’d go with that one. I do sympathize with the loc team’s decision, though.

        I think the biggest offender I’ve ever seen for this kind of thing is “My Teen Romantic Comedy is Wrong as Expected”. I think people over here called it “My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU”, which is pretty hilarious.

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    2. Act says:

      That was really good, though I thought the end dragged. I’ll def check out the author’s other stuff.

  4. Nerem says:
    Teppu is great. It’s basically what I wish Airmaster was. Well, I actually liked the Airmaster anime, and I was super hyped to read its manga since the anime kind of ended without a real ending.

     

    I could see why the Airmaster anime did that, as the manga’s ending was fucking awful in every way. It involved the creepy stalker asshole jerk getting with the protagonist and having sex with her and getting her pregnant. Yeah, what the fuck. The anime’s ending involved beating the shit out of him instead.

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  5. Act says:

    So I just finished PH and spoilers spoilers spoilers:

    a) Holy fuck that was amazing

    b) The ending was… cruelly sad, almost unnaturally so — surely terrible things don’t have to happen to literally the entire cast? It was all bitter, no sweet. It was certainly a powerful and literary ending, but it almost felt… unfair, as a reader? I think it falls kind of under the “grimdark is just as unrealistic as superfluff” clause. Surely there was a happy medium between the tea party fluff endinig and “everyone who doesn’t die which is like 2 people is an emotional wreck for a century at which point the only two still alive get to be happy for 15 minutes before they die too.”

    But man, this whole thing was tightly, brilliantly plotted and even the villains were compelling, full characters.

    I think a better ending would have been: have Oz die, and Alice finally get to have a normal human life. Vince + Ada, Gil + Alice, and sure, Liam + Sharon (this was a weird choice; it was basically trauma bonding in the grimdark ending, where they were both so miserable they clung to the only other survivor of the whole ordeal), and then as the years pass we see them all enjoying life but missing Oz, and then it ends with Gil getting to see new!Oz once before he dies, and then we can see Gil and Alice’s son or grandson with new!Oz, showing that even though they had to wait a lifetime, in a way they’re all together.

    The whole Shakespearean Tragedy ending is such a… letdown, in a way. It’s just not satisfying; the authorial hand is too apparent, and it feels less like a natural conclusion than a way to spite readers.

    Doesn’t really change my overall opinion though.

    1. Act says:

      Going to keep talking to myself because I’m still thinking about this story: I also think that if Vincent had brought back everyone instead of just Alice and Oz it would have worked really well. So he shows up with the reincarnations of Break, Elliot, Leo, Oscar, etc., as well, and then Gil tells them all the story, and they’re all together again finally, and Gil gets to die happy, having had the tea party at last. It’s still sad, but it’s also hopeful.

  6. CrazyEd says:

    I’ve been on a big fight sports kick these past few months, so I decided to go back and try to finally try and finish Teppu (because, for some reason or other, every time I try to read this manga, something prevents me from getting very far into it and I eventually forget I was even reading it and have to start over when I remember). So I have a few things to say about it. I was going to hold off making this post for a bit, but I’ve been slowed down more than I expected by Kengan Asura and All-Rounder Meguru.

    The women are strong, unique-looking, and drawn with an eye toward individuality, not attractiveness.

    While I don’t exactly disagree with this, it does seem like the overwhelming majority of the female characters do tend to fall on the attractive side of the scale. Natsuo, Yuzuko, and Ringi are all pretty conventionally attractive overall. The only exception I’ve seen so far is Kontani, who I now believe to at least be visually based on a specific female MMA fighter (though I have no clue who it could be), because I’ve seen so many women who have the same aesthetic as her in Japanese MMA. Even Yuzuko’s eyebrows, not not exactly what people in the west would immediately think of when thinking of attractive traits, is considered a moe trait in Japan.

    But with that said, I definitely agree that all the characters are very individual, and there’s a wide array of pretty realistic body types for women competing in MMA, especially Ringi. She’s kind of like… the model for what I think of when I think of the bodytype of a North or South American female mixed martial artist, especially her core.

    and I thought it was very clever to have spectators going on and on about how women never have KO fights before showing fight after fight with hard-hitting KOs

    I’m not quite sure how to feel about this. On one hand, it was a clever narrative element, but… on the other hand… actual knock outs are relatively uncommon in MMA in general. MMA referees, perhaps due to the legacy of the controversial early years of the sport, are extremely good at stopping matches before it gets to that. Of the pound for pound top 10 women, most of their fights were decided by TKO (where the referee decides that the loser is no longer able to intelligently defend themselves, usually after getting wailed on in a ground-and-pound scenario), and most of the top ten men’s fights were decided by decision (where they expend their three five-minute round time limit without either man submitting or getting knocked out, and a panel of judges decided who did better). But I dunno, maybe it’s different in Japan (or you’re counting TKOs in that statement).

    On that note, Ringi’s dad’s record is ridiculous. 500-0 is not only more wins than the current record holder I found by a substantial margin, but it’s more fights. Travis Fulton has a record of 255-54-10 and one no contest, for a total of 318 matches, from a career that started in 1996, and is currently ongoing. I know it’s a manga, but c’mon.

    I liked Natsuo a lot

    I like Natsuo because she’s the villain of a typical sports manga. The first third of the manga is motivated by nothing more than her wanting to beat the puppy dog grin of a girl’s face because it pisses her off. Every third chapter seems to have a moment where even she goes “wow, I’m kind of a jerk”.

    And yet, she’s not an unlikeable character, at all. She’s actually kind of sympathetic even from the start, even when all you know about her is that she’s just lonely because she’s good at everything. The amount of glee she from the idea of being beaten, around the time of her first amateur bout, borders on masochistic. And then she actually gets upset at winning, because in a sports manga, it’d be the time she gets thrown off her high horse. It’s a pretty interesting inversion of the typical sports manga formula.

    1. Roarke says:

      I think it’s funny both Kengan Asura and Teppu have a character/characters based on the Gracie family that pioneered Brazilian jujitsu, yet they’re so wildly different. Also, while I agree that Mario Cordeiro’s 500-0 record is utter nonsense, he’s still my favorite character in the whole deal. I’m a sucker for callous, emotionally manipulative villains with a high level of social acuity. One of my favorite panels in the manga was that super earnest expression he put on when he tried to convince Yuzuko’s parents that Ringi beating the shit out of her was sincerely intended to help her. I loved that whole Yuzuko backstory flashback from start to finish. ‘She’s creepy!’

      Natsuo’s a great example of how to make a sympathetic character out of a jerk. The manga fleshes her out well enough that you can see how her pettiness and spite spring from a deep well of ennui and loneliness. The way she immediately lunges at an interesting challenge and starts proactively picking fights once she’s gotten engaged speaks a lot to me about how people get soured by a lack of stimulation.

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