I came up with the idea for a snazzy regular feature on Same Hat (NEW COMICS DAY!), but then promptly forgot to keep it up and got way behind. Goddamn it. This is fairly typical of how things operate around here. I think the main problem is that I hate writing manga reviews, and would rather stick to the type of posts you're used to: "OMG DIS MANGA IS THE FOOKIN' COOLEST THING EVARS LOLBBQ!!>?1!?" And really, isn't that more effective than like, thoughtful commentary and objective weighing of qualities that might inform your purchasing decisions?
But the last few weeks have included some quality goods, and I wanna get back on track. So, here's my roundup of the past few weeks of horror manga releases/purchases:
MPD PSYCHO Vol.1 from Dark Horse
+ The quality of the book production is impressive. Dark Horse had made it clear that they were taking MPD very seriously, promoting it online and talking about their commitment to the series in various places. It shows in the book itself, which features a beautiful, semi-embossed cover, really crisp images on a nice paper stock, and keeps the first few color pages of the volume intact. The book feels good in your hands. They also included an afterward and notes from creator Eiji Otsuka.
+ MPD Psycho is a scanlation-turned-legit success story. Despite what Dark Horse may or may not say on this point, it's clear that the original scanlations of MPD created a huge cult following that eventually helped convince Dark Horse to license and release it. I have a sense that DH, which as you guys all know have cancelled most of their other (non-Otsuka - Mail, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service) horror titles, are putting all their horror manga tamagos in one basket. I have a feeling that MPD will be a success, and we'll see the entire run come out. The prevalence of the scanlations might be one factor encouraging DH to go all out on the production and quality of the MPD releases, and this is a good thing for consumers. Shorthand: YAY SCANLATORS-- You DO have an influence on the licensing and publishing decision process.
+ The story freaked me out and has a lot of promise. I had never read any of MPD Psycho (or seen the Takashi Miike series based on the manga), and a few of the sequences (cannibal public suicide, depotting a brain from a skull) really made me squirm and grossed me out. I'm interested to see where Otsuka takes the characters and setting he established in this first book.
+ Exclusively gendered violence is not a good sign. I know that MPD is a famously gory and depraved manga, and that wouldn't be something to turn me away. What I really didn't like, however, was the exclusive depiction of one kind of fetishistic violence toward women depicted in this first volume. By my count, we meet two serial killers in this short book that both seem to put women in similar bondage gear, displaying them in stages of torture, before chopping them up and publicly displaying their corpses. I found the repetition of this visual (a tamer form of which also pops up often in Otsuka's Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service) a bit tiring and blech-making. You could argue that there WERE male victims at the hands of the aforementioned cannibal killer midway through the book, but all we get of these victims are a few shots framed as autopsy photos. The gore itself in MPD is not a problem, but I'm not going to stick around if we're facing volume after volume of the same type of rape-y violence against women.
+ The bold & italic font used through the book. This sounds like a dumb complaint, but after seeing the awesome production on this book, I was put off by the gnarly always bold, always italicized font they chose for the entire book. I really wish they would have gone with a more typical Comic Sans type font, and made wading through the confusing first few chapters a little easier.
VERDICT: I want to support this book because it's a scanlation-gone-legit, it's one of the darkest and creepiest mainstream titles available, and the book itself is really gorgeous. That said, I honestly didn't enjoy reading this first volume that much and hope the story improves in volume 2.
THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM Vol.6 from Viz
+ Time travel logic taken directly from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. My favorite part in that movie is when they're in the police station and make a mental note to go back in time later and place a radio to distract Bill's dad... and then, POW!, it's come to be just by the act of making that mental note. Except in Umezu's imagination, that same logic applies to stuffing medicine into a mummified corpse.
+ More present-day sequences with Sho's mom. She is extremely sympathetic, even as she: i) attacks a pro baseball player as he is running toward home plate, ii) spits on grieving mothers and throws the incense and flowers for their 'dead' children on the ground, and iii) cuts her own arm up in order to sneak into a hospital. You are awesome, Mrs. Takamatsu.
+ Killing off 1/2 of the entire school population in a 10 page sequence. Mr. Umezu, you amaze me.
+ This intensity is NOT sustainable. With 5 more volumes left, Umezu has left me wondering how he can POSSIBLY keep up this shit without it unraveling.
+ People's heads and arms aren't supposed to fly off during a flash flood. This was awesome but HONESTLY??
+ That's about it. This series is radical. The only bad news is having to wait a few more months for volume 7!
VERDICT: Drifting Classroom is Umezu in rare form, and each new volume of this series is a serious treat to tear through.
THE ART OF HIDESHI HINO from Last Gasp
+ Tons of previously unseen art and paintings. The book contains about 30-40 pages of full-color paintings depicting Hino's usual suspects: Urban hellscapes, mutated bug boys and hell babies, lizards fucking humans, landfills and annihilation. Ridiculous and awesome stuff.
+ New comics in translation. After the paintings, you get three complete horror tales, "Memories of the Mermaid," "The Red Fruit," and "The Snow Flower." I especially dug the mermaid one, which looks especially nice in full color!
+ Blurbs and introductions from Maruo and Mizuno mean you are a badass. I'll try to scan Maruo's insane introduction, titled "Pseudo Amida Sutra of a Dreaming Embryo." It's very short, but something to behold.
+ The quality of the pages is not great. Sadly, when you look at the painting reproductions, on some of them you can make out blurriness and what looks like the edges of inket printing. It's fantastic to see this stuff in color, but the actual images and book production is lacking in crispness and quality.
+ I love Hino, but I want to see underrepresented horror manga-ka in English. Hino has seen a LARGE share of his manga translated into English (for better or for worse), and I'd love to see others get their chance to reach and English-speaking audience.
THE VERDICT: This isn't the book I'd recommend to a casual manga fan, but for the Hideshi Hino fanatics and completists this is a MUST GET.
In other news-- we're still accepting submissions for the 4-Panel Gag Manga contest! Send yours tonight to beat the deadline!! Evan and I will decide a winner tomorrow and post the results (and ship out that copy of Junji Ito's Flesh-Colored Horror) on Tuesday morning.
As for the World of Same Hat booklets, I put 11 copies in the mail on Friday, and have a few ready to drop at the post office tomorrow on my lunch break. Once I've heard from people on the original list, I'll try to come up with a fair way to get rid of any extras. Thanks again!