Friday, January 16, 2009

BEST X OF EVERYTHING 2008: Manga!

It's a few weeks late, but here is the first in my series of YEAR-IN-REVIEW 2008 posts. I'm splitting things (perhaps unduly, so sue me) to the following categories: BEST MANGA! BEST COMICS! BEST BLOGS! and MOST ANTICIPATED IN 09! This is similar to what I did last year, except I smooshed all my best of 2007 lists into one post.

Since we're almost into the third week of 2008, I'll keep this short and get right to the list... I'm most interested in hearing your thoughts on my thoughts and what stuff I stupidly left out. I'll see you guys in the comments!

12. Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi


Aside from the exterior book design/cover (which I still find sorta wretched), Drawn & Quarterly treated this gekiga and impressionistic book with love and care. Less of a narrative graphic novel than an experiment and whirlpool of gut-sucking malaise, I found myself depressed and worn-out by the end of the book. Now when do we get Tsuge's Nejishiki in English?

11. Suppli 2 by Okazaki Mari

Maybe it's a sign I'm moving through my mid-twenties and onto my late-twenties in the next little while, but I really was FEELING the female protagonist Minami. The depictions of work and office life, the subtle sexism of the corporate sphere and the angst about meeting and starting a real relationship with someone new is great in this series, volume 2 especially. What the fuck Tokyopop, don't kill this one off!

10. Monster 14 by Naoki Urasawa

The entire last half of Monster was a blur of excitement and shocks and-- dude, Urasawa! You are introducing new characters every 20 pages!?! While some folks balk at the ending (I wasn't so frustrated by it, myself), volume 14 was a high point in seinen drama, with Nina's discoveries at Red Rose Mansion (and the creepy-ass Velkooky Velkousty kid's book) give way to details on the night of Johan's shooting as a young boy. IN-TENSE. I love you, Urasawa.

9. Parasyte 3 by Hitoshi Iwaki

Volumes 4 and 5 are solid as well, but #3 is where the unraveling of Shin's humanity began to dawn on me and freak me out. The school battle in the second half of the book is brutal, with soupy gore covering an entire floor of a school. A dense and extremely satisfying book in which Iwaki finally started to poke the reality of the surrounding world. Also, a parasyte woman using the volcan death grip on her 2-month old baby?? PRICELESS. Iwaki has this thing under control, my friends.

8. Dororo #2 by Osamu Tezuka

First off, another round of applause to Peter Mendelsen for great book design work on this series. The entire series (while unfinished by Tezuka) weaves period drama with yokai folklore without making it bland or cheesy. The opening scene of Dororo's unabashed emotion at the samurai executions was surprisingly poignant. I also am down with any book that includes bad dads, moth demonesses and knife-wielding gender-bending.

7. Travel by Yoichi Yokoyama

Yokoyama is an alien, who speaks in a multi-dimensional language that is beyond the reach of our language-processing cortex. I can get why this book was a hard sell for some people, but I think it's one of the most interesting and important manga titles to be released in the last few years. Yokoyama depicts 3 dudes buying tickets, boarding a train, watching the scenery and finally, arriving. That's it, and it's jaw-dropping, a super-charged visual bunker buster that I keep coming back to.

6. The Drifting Classroom 11 by Kazuo Umezu

This is how all great series should end: reunited friends, psychic preschooler daisy chains, transdimensional surgery, dynamite teleportation, anarchist subtext, dismembered limb claw attacks, child-like hope and... NO SALVATION. Well goddamn, Umezu-san. That's it then. I bow down to you, sir.

5. Nana 8 by Ai Yazawa

Nana has reserved a place for itself near the top of my all-time favorite series (of any kind, in any medium) list. The entire recent run has been fantastic, but issue 8 marked the beginning of the end for Nana & Hachi's normal(?) life. The scene with Hachi & Shin killllllled me. This is some good shit, right here.

4. Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby by Takashi Nemoto

What is wrong with you people? Why haven't more people bought this book? I need to do a proper write-up sometime in the next few weeks, but PictureBox put their necks out with this gem (poopsicle?) of REAL, HONEST TO GOD, 100% UNDERGROUND MANGA. While it's easy to gross out friends with the depraved baby in the womb fucking mommy while getting pegged by daddy scene (And you thought you had seen it all before?), Monster Men is an extremely righteous and layered piece of heta-uma gold. Nemoto has the goods to make even me squirm a bit, but in this book he's also systemically taking apart and doling out commentary on class, the comics medium and contemporary Japanese society. A MUST-HAVE for Same Hat readers.

3. Goodbye & Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

The top 3 are unshakable and golden manga classics, the best of the best and a rare treat to get so many quality, thick books like these in one year. Goodbye is the third in D&Q's (hopefully) continuing series of short story collections of Tatsumi's work. My GF and I were split about if this surpassed Abandon The Old in Tokyo in terms of raw power and literary merit (she says it's her favorite of the Tatsumi collections), but Goodbye & Other Stories is a triumph. I've read the first 100 pages of this year's A DRIFTING LIFE (the 830pg Tastumi autobiography) and I guarantee it will be at the top of all of our best of 2009 lists.

2. Black Jack #1 by Osamu Tezuka

BJ, the king of cool, came back into glorious print again. So far we've had two volumes, with 4 or 5 more volumes on the way in 2009. Black Jack is Tezuka at the top of his action and drama game, and this first volume was distilled goodness (with a few dashes of retarded Tezuka's patent over-indulgence and gooeyness). This book is like a super-concentrated formula of all things great about comics as a medium. Thank you for bringing this beautiful bad boy back, Vertical!

1. Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma

I read Azuma's funny and bleak autobiography about life as a manga artist in one full sitting, on an airplane heading home for the holidays. The story is served up to us in 4 sections, corresponding roughly to Azuma's own cycles of addiction, madness, and exhaustion. I never stopped feeling the tug of these sad episodes, even as Disappearance Diary broke into some utterly funny, and often mundane, daily episodes from Azuma's "disappeared" weeks and months . Other reviewers have done a better job explaining this book's greatness, but it was the manga that moved me most in 2008.

OTHER NOTABLES
After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro

I am not caught up with the most recent volumes, but I think After School Nightmare is one of the most fluid and intriguing series being published right now. I was put off by the cover and art for a long time, but when I finally sat down to read it I found a psychosexual and honest high school drama that I really could get into.

Solanin by Inio Asano

God, what kind of manga nerd am I? This would be up above on the list except I haven't finished reading it and made up my mind about this book. I'm actually about 200 pages into it, right now... Some folks loved the angst and floating nothing depiction of post-graduation life, while other mangasphere folks thought it was aimless and boring. I'm hooked right now, but need to see where we end up going (if anywhere) before I figure out exactly how I feel.

Cat Eyed Boy by Kazuo Umezu

While I loved Cat Eyed Boy, it couldnt quite compare to the raw madness of Drifting Classroom, or the more subtle and historical action-take on yokai in Dororo. That said, this 2-volume monstrosity it blissful and revolting, depicting a juvenile (but at times, intensely GROSS and CREEPY) series of unfortunate events. I feel like Viz has a few more Umezu series up their sleeves (Makoto-chan? My Name is Shingo? Baptism?) and I can't wait.

Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma

I can't in good conscience put a book Evan and I worked on into my "best of-" list, but I sincerely think this was one of the most pleasurable reads of the year (even after the 60+ times I read the book). Our first published translation/adaptation, Tokyo Zombie will always be near the top of my favorite manga list, of any year.

COMING VERY SOON: Best Comics! Best Blogs! and Most Anticipated 2009!

13 comments:

Joseph Luster said...

Nice list, dude! It actually makes me feel kind of guilty because I missed out on a lot of great stuff as it was coming out, but I plan on catching up in the first half of the year. I'll probably use a lot of this list for just that.

As for what I've read, I'd definitely put Cat Eyed Boy way up there. I fell completely in love with the series and Viz's presentation of it is pretty incredible.

pirochan said...

What an awesome list!

I will scream if Tokyopop puts Suppli on hiatus. It might be my own late-twenties-ness, but it's one of the most touching manga I've read in a while (that and my favourite genre is "written by hysterical women"). Tokyopop has delayed or killed off so many other series in similar genres that I sometimes wonder why they even bother picking these licenses up :(

Deb Aoki said...

What a fun and interesting list! Looking forward to seeing your next ones.
I have yet to find a copy of Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby -- and I've checked most of my usual offline sources (Kinokuniya, Comic Relief, Borders)... :\

Oh! Also -- Tokyo Zombie is nominated in the Best New One-Shot Manga Readers' Poll.

Pls. bug all your friends to vote! :)

zytroop said...

"Now when do we get Tsuge's Nejishiki in English?"

We already have Nejishiki in English! It got published in issue 250 of The Comic Journal. Totally worth buying for those 22 pages alone. Surprisingly few manga nerds know this so you might want to take it up in a post, I would if I blogged :P Get it here http://www.fantagraphics.com

Also, book of the year for me = Red Colored Elegy. I'm still bummed that D&Q didn't provide any background for it like in the Tatsumi books.

ryan said...

@joseph: thanks dude! yeah cat eyed boy is a treat... and as for the book design, i think my buddy at viz said it best, "We out vertical-ed Vertical with this one!"

@pirochan. i agree! suppli and solanin together are quite great reads... especially as im at this weird age: 26. i dont have angst about my age. but it is sorta a weird age to be :)

@deb: thanks! i enjoyed your lists a lot too... and might be stealing some tips from your anticipated in 09 list. i'll tell folks to@come vote!

@zytroop: yes, good point! we talked a lot about that issue with sean (ax anthology editor) when i helped with his gekiga lecture at alternative press expo. i had heard rumors of a big. proper Tsuge book... all the stuff in the big japanese collection where that 22pg secrion came from... it sounds like it wont materialize anytime soon - tsuge is against any more english adaptions of his work - so we're all sorta S.O.L.
i agree the d&q book could have given more space to hayashi and that book's impact on not just comics but on the japanese counter-culture of that era. it's a good book on its own merit, but even more interesting when placed in its historical context :) thanks!

Eoin Marron said...

Interesting list Ryan, shame I haven't read even half of them! :P
RED COLORED ELEGY's on my shelf waiting to be read alongside volume 1 of ME & THE DEVIL BLUES.
GOODBYE, DORORO, TOKYO ZOMBIE, and DISSAPEARANCE DIARY are on my next-to-buy list. I've had my eye on SUPPLI as well, the art looks lovely. I'm not sure what to do about BLACK JACK though, I'd prefer to get the three hardcover versions...

Maybe RED COLORED ELEGY was purposefully designed with little information to reflect the minimalistic tone of the story? Though a little background wouldn't have gone astray...

Also, I thought this scanlation group might be of interest to you;
They're called Kitten Patriot, and they're currently working on two Usamaru Furuyama titles, Junji Ito's VOICES IN THE DARK, Suehiro Maruo's PANORAMA ISLAND, a few other things, and have released a short story from a 60's issue of GARO, titled A TRAIN AT THE END OF SUMMER, with art similar to Seiichi Hayashi's.
They're also working on a scanlation of GENSENKAN SHUJIN, a 20+ page Yoshiharu Tsuge story, in the vein of the excellent NEJI-SHIKI.
Both A TRAIN and GENSENKAN can be downloaded in French at this guy's blog;
http://kaidankamera.blogspot.com/2008/11/tsuge-yoshiharu-gensenkan-shujin.html

bittermelon said...

pretty good list, i mostly agree though i haven't read most of the specific volumes, but the series in general. i've been going back and forth on getting red colored elegy, cuz i think it speaks to my emo / relationship baggage. the travel book is eyecatching but weird! i'm glad you mentioned tokyo zombie. duh. b/c in all honesty it's a fun book and i' not just saying that.

ryan said...

@Eoin: Thanks for the detailed post :) Yeah, it sounds like there's a lot of good reading ahead of you!

There are some series that i'm interested in reading all of (like After School Nightmare, but also Slam Dunk and REAL and a few others) but don't want to buy... I'm planning a trip to the manga cafe in SF's japantown this weekend and reading as much of those books as I can over the course of a few hours.

Oh yeah, thanks for mentioning Kitten Patriot. I actually had a long email conversation a few weeks ago with the group's leader Volker about their projects. I'm currently most interested in folks tackling strange vintage stuff and been less interested in scanlations of things like Ito that mightget licensed eventually.... I guess having worked the licensed side of things (and having 1-2 new projects on the way but in various stage of development) I'm more interested in promoting official channels... who knows?

Thanks for the french download link! Are you familiar with Lost in Scanlation! (http://www.lostinscanlation.com/) They are the most interesting scanlation group to me... they work specifically on webcomics from Japan and get permission from the artists-- and work directly with them. I think it's as easy in those cases as emailing the Japanese creators directly. Very, very cool stuff.

ryan said...

@bittermelon: Thanks for commenting. I have a feeling Red-Colored Elegy would be very enjoyable(?) for you... Solanin too! Tokyo Z has made a few other folks' best of lists.. I'm just happy that some non-manga people are buying it, and that friends, artists we like, and readers of this blog were into the book.

John T said...

Tokyo Zombie is doing well in Deb's poll...nice!

tree said...

I ordered a copy of the takashi nemoto book right after I read your post. I really enjoyed his short which appeared in the "underground japan comics"-thing, but i didn't know that there was an actual book of him available in english. cheers.

myrto said...

I totally agree with your list, though I haven't found still a copy of "Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby". And, I will a shot to "After School Nightmare" just because you recommend it.
I never thought that you would be a Nana fan as well. I put Solanin in my top-10, I found it really touching (but as you said in the comments, it must be something with the 26 years old weirdness that I relate to ^_^).

And yeah, "Tokyo Zombie" totally deserves a place on that list!

Three things I enjoyed this year, as well. "Me and the devil blues", "Honey and Clover" and "Kuro-a-shoulder-coffin" if you are into Yotsuba style kind of moe.

ryan said...

@johnT: Oh, cool! :)

@tree:Awesome! They can use the sale, and I'm sure you will dig the book... it's a TRIP

@myrto: Yeah, a lot of people are having trouble finding the Nemoto book... PictureBox is having a 50% off sale, so maybe you could get it from them?
I like After-School Nightmare... Alice recommended it to me, and I still need to read more of it :)

Your suggestions are good! I gotta check out "Me and the devil blues" and "Honey and Clover"-- thanks for the recommendation!

How are things in Athens right now?