August 2021 Books Read Standouts MANGA TRIPLE-FEATURE! Time Paradox Ghostwriter, Vol. 1 / Mama Akuma, Vol. 1 / Delicious In Dungeon, Vol. 1
I’m reading a lot of manga lately, for several reasons:
1. It’s good, and there’s a lot of it.
2. While a 30-volume series is definitely a significant investment-proposition, individual volumes are much cheaper than a trade paperback collection of most Western comics; when you finish a volume and you need to know what happens next right goddamn now, it’s a lot easier to drop $7.99 on another The Devil Is A Part-Timer! or Chainsaw Man than $16.99 on the next Home Sick Pilots or that complete Proctor Valley Road trade. In fairness my solution is usually to buy all of them, not because I am flush with cash but because my need to collect and protect stories usually beats my already anemic money-sense. So it goes.
3. It’s a lot easier to read at work, not because it’s of lower quality or complexity but because the page-layouts are almost always chunkier and the text-size is much bigger and usually less dense, so it’s easier to read a page at a glance; they’ll take three pages to get through the text a Western comic would squeeze into one. This lower visual density also means I can chomp through a couple of volumes in a workday, which illuminates the Make Number Go Up node in my brain that tingles every time I add something to my Books Read list. (Ironically this wasn’t true when I worked in-office instead of at home, because we all know that Sailor Moon is perfectly innocent and 100% genuinely wholesome, and we all also know that if there’s a single page in a volume of Sailor Moon that, without context, looks like it should get me placed on a watchlist, it’ll pop up right as one of my bosses walks up.)
4. Finally, everything is terrible and has been for several years, and manga as a submedium of the comic book is much more open to gentle, feel-good, heartwarming slice-of-life stories than Western comics, even devoting an entire genre classification to it, so for every Giant Days or Lumberjanes there will be several Animeta!s and Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-sans or Welcome To Japan, Ms. Elf!s or Drugstore In Another Worlds or Heterogenia Linguisticos, and I for one am PREPARED TO CAPITALIZE on that cultural difference.
Anyway manga rules, I recommend it, and I once again recommend the Mangasplaining podcast to learn about the history and state of the submedium and get more recommendations than is, strictly speaking, healthy for your wallet.
Time Paradox Ghostwriter, Vol.1
TPG is such a weird, wonderful thing and, unlike most manga, it’s a finished two-volume series that I’m frankly surprised they didn’t bind into a single collection for the digital release, so you don’t need to worry about dropping eight bucks on the new volume once every other month for the next dozen presidential administrations.
TPG does with manga what Animeta! did with anime: both focus on a young artist trying to break into their industry, but unlike Miyuki, Teppei is actually a perfectly competent artist, he just kinda…doesn’t have anything to say with his work; all of his characters are flat, his stories are trite, and his art is lifeless. This is a problem for him, because the only thing he wants in this godforsaken world is to work for Shōnen Jump, the real-world actual biggest manga magazine on the planet, and their standards are as rigorous as you’d expect for a company with that level of success; those standards are actually something we’ll become pretty familiar with, because much as Animea! does with anime and A Witch’s Printing Office does for both publishing and event coordination, if TPG can do one thing before it passes from this sinful earth, it’ll be making sure you know how manga gets made. This is a good thing! Unless you HATE LEARNING??? IN WHICH CASE, FUCKO, LEMME TELL YA RIGHT NOW: I’m sorry your early experiences with learning were negative, fucko, it’s not your fault, learning actually rules when no one is forcing you to do it or leveraging your paycheck on getting kids to do it!
IN ANY EVENT: Teppei can’t draw well enough for Jump and is at the end of his creative rope when, as if you hadn’t guessed yet, lightning hits his microwave, melting a robot’s ass to it and causing it to produce an issue of Shōnen Jump from ten years in the future; we’ve all been there, we all know this classic way. (Aside, I’m not entirely certain this entire title isn’t just a thinly-veiled advert for Jump but like, even if it is, so what? Like every goddamn character on Schitt’s Creek doesn’t prominently display their iPhones every episode and it’s a great show anyway? LIKE KNIVES OUT WASN’T OPENLY SPONSORED BY THE FOGHORN LEGHORN IMPERSONATORS OF AMERCA TO CEMENT THEIR INFLUENCE IN THE SENATE???) And in flipping through it, he discovers that manga from the future rules, and begins to ask himself: if he’s had a psychotic break and this is his mind’s way of allowing him to manifest his creativity, then he’s coming up with all of this amazing manga himself and has a shot at achieving his dream, and if it’s real, if it’s actually from the future…then it wouldn’t do any harm to steal it and submit it as his own, because it hasn’t been made yet, so he can’t steal it, can he?
And so he faces temptation; is material success worth his soul and integrity as an artist? Could he even be happy achieving his dream if–oh no wait he totally did it, and so his microwave keeps producing future comics, he becomes a rising star in the field, and everything’s aces…until the new crop of interns arrives at Jump, one of whom has a name that he recognizes: it’s the name he sees on the title page of every issue of the comic he’s been shamelessly stealing and selling as his own.
Score: 8/10 ARTISTIC TIMECRIMES Or, If You’re Into Learning About The Manga Publication Industry, 8.75/10 Editors That You Need To Fear More Than You Fear GOD.
Mama Akuma, Vol. 1
So, I’ve come to understand that much as manga is fertile ground for the kind of warmhearted, no-stakes, Low-Fi Chillhop Stories To Do Homework To as described above, there’s another subgenre that absolutely flourishes in this ecosystem: The Terrifying Evil Guy Who Is Forced Into Doing Something Wholesome. We can see that this is the cousin of the Adorable Variation on the Badass & Child Duo trope that we love making movies about every seven years or so, wherein a musclebound meathead (such as Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, most recently Dave Bautista and going all the way back to Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger) is placed in charge of human child with hilarious results. (Note that this is distinct from Badass & Child Duo stories which focus on actual threats to the child and are usually stressful and upsetting, such as The Road, Leon: The Professional, and Logan; although there is a weird middle ground version where the threats are VERY real but the Badass is still wholesomeized, such as Man On Fire and, presumably, other examples that this already over-long list doesn’t need. Oh! Wait, PG: Psycho Goreman! It’s the opposite of wholesome and the Child is DECIDEDLY the badass of the operation but it still qualifies because it rules! Ahhhhh that’s better, it was like a sneeze that quit just before detonation.
Anyway, Terrifying Evil Guy Forced Into Wholesomeness is a great microgenre, and Mama Akuma is a great introduction: Seere is a millennia-old demon who grants wishes (???) that, predictably, always end in disaster, and he takes a professional pride in his work: when the wish is wished, he doesn’t go back to the underworld until the wish is granted. So when he’s summoned to human earth, he’s ready to be back on the job, until he meets his new client: a little girl whose mother has died, and whose wish is that Seere be her new mama. Seere being an impossibly ancient being of pure evil, and also a dude, isn’t a dealbreaker for either of them (again, professional, and also little girl), and he immediately sets to work using his soul-witheringly, empire destroyingly, god-killingly evil powers to work summoning a whirling maelstrom of corrupted, screaming infernal eldritch malevolence and using it to bring the laundry in from the clothesline and fold it within an inch of its goddamn life. That’s it: that’s the joke, and it works every time, at least for the first volume, much like The Way Of The Househusband‘s single joke works every time for six and counting. It’s simple and it’s sweet and it’s good, and there’s a twinge of sadness that adds depth to every joke about a demon lord learning to make microwave curry or yet another person they have to trick into believing there’s a perfectly valid reason for this young, solemn man who talks like he’s from The VVich suddenly living with a busy single father and his adorable daughter.
Score: 8/10 Adorable Chibi Kittycat Notebooks Filled With Housekeeping Instructions In A Language That Melts Your Teeth And Makes Them Regrow In Your Eyes If You Hear It But Is Really Good For Taking Notes
Delicious In Dungeon, Vol. 1
DiD is so good and so deep that I devoted an entire semester-long critical analysis project to it. I promise this won’t just be me reading that to you, mainly because it was partially a PowerPoint presentation, and also interpretive dance, and also A LIVING-ART RECREATION OF A BAS RELIEF.
DiD is about an archetypical fantasy adventuring party–elf mage, halfling thief, human warrior, etc.–who are on a very particular mission: finding an ancient red dragon in the heart of a possibly living dungeon labyrinth complex that ate the warrior’s sister alive right in front of him, and hope its digestion is slow enough that there’s something left to resurrect when they carve her murdered remains out of its fucking stomach. I promise it’s actually very lighthearted–death is basically just an inconvenience as long as you have enough of the body and someone who can rez them–but seriously fuck that dragon. Anyway, they run into trouble almost immediately, not because they’re incompetent–they aren’t–but because the dungeon is massive and it’s literally impossible to bring all the food a party of their size would need to venture any meaningful distance in. There is, however, a solution: one of the adventurers, Laios, has a secret penchant for EATING MONSTERS, which is so weird to the others that they treat it like a borderline perversion, or at least they do until it’s either braised kelpie haunch or all-you-can-eat wall-slime. Also fortunately, they shortly meet a dwarf called Senshi who is essentially if Anthony Bourdain was a park ranger, maintaining the dungeon ecosystem and compiling a list of monster-centric recipes that are so realistic they literally include nutrition-facts labels. And THIS is where DiD begins to reveal its true self: not a medieval fantasy adventure, but a food manga in wizard’s robes, and an environmental and ecological treatise in a knight’s shiny metal pants.
Without getting too deep into the research that I really deserved a better grade for doing, PROFESSOR MCNAMARA, DiD is a deconstruction of dungeon-crawl media that asks questions like why aren’t there corpses and poops everywhere?, and how do all of these monstros survive in here?, and actually answers them: Senshi literally installed rudimentary toilets for adventurers to use, the contents of which he collects to fertilize the gardens he keeps ON THE BACKS OF GIANT STONE GOLEMS, there’s a scavenger-species of large amoeba-like carrion-feeders that keep the halls free of most organic litter, and the dungeon’s wildlife ecosystem turns out to be as complex and delicate as any, as the group learns the hard way when they defeat a giant squid on a flooded level only to realize it was the only thing predating a mer-moid species and keeping their numbers in check, as a result of which the fish species they cultivated were hunted to near-extinction. It’s a bad scene! But it’s a fascinating look at the interconnectedness of all living things and embraces what John Hodgman calls The Carnivore’s Burden: the knowledge that your continued existence requires the death of other living things, and the acceptance of that fact with grace and respect for what you eat, not least of all because one day, it will be you that’s on the other end of the fork.
DiD isn’t preachy, it’s not asking you to only support free-range eggs or re-think the impact that using canola oil has on the environment, it’s just asking you to be a little more mindful of your food and where it comes from, and if you don’t wanna take that message it won’t make you, but will still offer you a genuinely great story full of characters you’ll wanna know more about in a world full of hella weird, cool monsters and delicious recipes, and if you don’t want THAT either, that’s probably also fine, Senshi will be happy to make you like, buttered noodles or something, he just won’t tell you that the butter is from a lady minotaur’s milk and the noodles are from ambulatory whispering-wheat.
Score: 8.5/10 Tabs I Opened Googling ‘Weird Bas Relief’ Until I Found One That Met My RIGOROUS STANDARDS
where all things are bound by law, and crowned with love