Archive for September, 2008

A few things to look at this week

After a lazy week of posting like a frat-boy (high-class smut and meat stuffed donuts) I figure it’s time to return to manga.

Ed at Mangacast treats us to a peek at Le Temps des Frommages by Yamaguchi Yoshinobu.  Truly, Roquefort is the king of cheese.

The Daily Yomiuri Shimbun has a review of Urusawa’s Pluto, an homage to Tezuka.  Pluto is forthcoming from Viz Media in February of 2009, releasing alongside Viz’s other Urusawa property, 20th Century Boys.

The Daily Yomiuri also pulled this from the AP wires: Director Feng Xiaogang’s movie The Assembly swept at China’s Hundred Flowers Awards with best movie, best director, and best actor with Zhang Hanyu winning for his portrayal of Captain Gudzr Di.  The Assembly, about the People’s Liberation Army during China’s civil war in the 1940′s, screened at this past summer’s New York Asian Film Festival where I had the luck of seeing it – and was absolutely floored.  It had the grit and humanity of Sam Peckinpah’s Iron Cross, the lyricism and beauty of Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line, the visual effects and Hollywood pop of Spielberg.

But it would be a mistake to compare it to western war movies.  This was something far more innovative – and fresh – for coming out of Mainland China (I suspect the Korean fight choreography team that worked on the movie had something to do with it).  There was the familiar theme of “one man against the world”, the single hero, but here fighting for a much larger cause (all his fallen men), the blood of battle, David vs. Goliath.  These are all de rigueur for us in the west, but it’s pretty foreign for China, so it was very interesting to see a story like this unfold with such themes finding a home in the context of a Mainland narrative.  I would say, that if there is only one Chinese movie that you see this year – just one movie that you have to read instead of just watch – please, please, please make it The Assembly.

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New review: Slow Sex Secrets

A dear friend in the corporate world had a cocktail party last night so I spent the evening among suits.  Lehman Bros., Merril, AIG, has got everyone in a funk so more than a few were happy to hear about comics and what I do.  I’ve only just started reviewing for Playboy’s website, but as soon as I bring it up, the guys all have their suspenders in a twist, jumping up and down and asking excitedly “Do you know Heff?  Do you know Heff?”

No.  And I’m not blond enough to warrant an invite to the Playboy Mansion, so good luck meeting Kendra via me.

But thanks for the beer.  I love you guys.

Here’s my review of Adam Tokunaga’s Slow Sex Secrets on Playboy.com.

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What’s for breakfast

The OG Shake Shack is a stone’s throw from the PW offices, but we have been waiting for Shake Shack to open up it’s alternate location in hopes to avoid the line.  But I don’t think SS has anything on this:

Krispy Kreme Bacon-Cheddar Cheeseburgers – apparently what they eat at the Google offices here in NYC.  I’m jealous.  But does it inspire people to stand in line an hour deep for their burger?

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Busy weekend

More from this past weekend – much of it I spaced on due to my need to do laundry and my son’s need to lie in the grass and stare at the clouds.

Brigid links to an interview that Takehiko Inoue (mangaka, Slamdunk!, REAL) does with wheelchair basketball team captain Shingo Fujii for the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Inoue: I happened to see wheelchair basketball by accident while I was in the United States. It was after I completed “Slam Dunk,” and I was thinking that I would never draw sports manga again, but then I thought, “Wow, I can turn this into manga!” There’s this sense of speed [in wheelchair basketball] that is comparable to a motorbike race or competitive cycling. It was so different from other sports.

Fujii: At first, I lost all my confidence. My body didn’t move well, so the space I could cover to reach for the ball was very limited, and I couldn’t pass the ball well. I thought, “I’ve been doing basketball for so long, why can’t I win?” It was frustrating. But becoming a wheelchair user also made me realize I really loved basketball. My legs didn’t move, but I wanted to play basketball. I think that’s why I got better.

She also links to an article on MSNBC by Brian Alexander that opens with mention of Hello Kitty vibrators.  I think it’s supposed to be an article about the role of sex in anime and manga.  Aside from it being broad and disorganized, I think the biggest problem with this article is that it takes “otaku culture” (as Alexander refers to it) out of context.  Not that it’s easy to explain something like Japan to outsiders – writing about manga for the general public is very, very challenging.

To be honest, I think Alexander is really trying to understand and explain the sexual undercurrents in Japanese pop culture.  There’s just not enough room on MSNBC for the type of article that would do this.  “Otaku” has it’s negative connotations in Japan, and “techno-geek” isn’t a wrong definition/translation, nor is the description of men in manga as fawning over statuettes of their favorite female anime character (Welcome to the NHK, Sundome, Genshiken, all feature male characters like this).  There’s a grain of truth in pretty much everything he mentions.  But the larger picture that all the small truths fit into is missing.

Luckily, there’s always a way to learn more about Japan – like Japan C, which is going on now:

A rolling eleven week exhibition of all things Japanese. Spanning home and fashion accessories to gadgets, food, beauty and pop-culture products, Japan C is part design exhibition, part bazaar, part trade fair, highlighting over 70 diverse Japanese firms.

At the Felissimo Design House, 10 West 56th Street, New York City (map). Monday through Saturday 11am to 6pm. New products go on sale every Monday.

japan_c_t-boy_02.jpg

THEME WEEKS

WEEK 1: 8/16 – Celebrate Jiba! Modern Traditions From hand-dyed fabrics to zori sandals, time-honored craftsmanship finds contemporary expression.

WEEK 2: 8/25 – Design at Play Robots, Mu-Bots and other design objects with surprising twists.

WEEK 3: 9/1 – Accessorize Your Passion for Fashion Jewelry, handbags and shoes, Japanese creativity from head to toe.

WEEK 4: 9/8 – At Home in Japan Uncovering the joy in inspired, Japanese living.

WEEK 5: 9/15 – Design Japan See the substance behind the star power of Japan’s biggest names in design.

WEEK 6: 9/22 – Notes from Japan: The New Stationery Discover the latest advancements through the traditional arts of writing and paper.

WEEK 7: 9/29 – I ♥ Kawaii A celebration of Japanese cuteness in all its forms.

WEEK 8: 10/6 – Secrets of Japanese Beauty Experts reveal the wellness tips that have made Japan one of the healthiest nations in the world.

WEEK 9: 10/13 – The Smart Japanese Kitchen The latest tools for Japanese cooking, from the ideal table setting to rice cookers that make the perfect bowl of rice.

WEEK 10: 10/20 – Taste of Japan Sample the finest sakes, soy sauces and sea urchin.

WEEK 11: 10/27: – Cherry Tree Auction Bid on your favorite items and help the nonprofit New York Restoration Project bring Japan’s sakura cherry trees to New York City.

The domestic in me (the same domestic that spent countless hours online this weekend indulging her Zojirushi fetish) that pines for non-burnt homemade rice thinks that the week of 10/13 is the week to pay a visit to Felissimo.

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Crunchyroll hosts Princess Ai: Encounters

princess ai calendar

Online media distributor Crunchyroll will be hosting Tokyopop’s manga Princess Ai: Encounters.  The Crunchyroll website has a new manga reader and will preview Ai: Encounters for a full two weeks, going live the same day the book will be released (9/16).

From what I hear, Crunchyroll gained a lot of their popularity via their online anime distribution.  (Rumor has it that their early approach to online anime distribution was of the bootleg fansub variety but I haven’t spoken to anyone at Crunchyroll about this so I could be spreading rumors.  But what better way to go legit that actually pursue licensing negotiations with Japanese anime companies, which is what Crunchyroll does now.)  I haven’t spent that much time on the Crunchyroll website but it looks like there’s a whole lot more on there to dig into.

As for the manga – online distribution of manga is something that pubs (both in the U.S. and Japan) have struggled with.  Scanlation being the point of contention.  But this is exactly what TP was going for with its OEL – the flexibility to distribute their product online however they wish.  With Crunchyroll they’re hitting their sweetspot insofar as audience is concerned.

Princess Ai is the OEL that Stu Levy (ne DJ Milky) collaborated on with Courtney Love and Yazawa Ai.  The manga was penned by Levy and illustrated by Misaho Kujiradou, but Yazawa did the original Princess Ai character design.  Given Yazawa Ai’s proclivities to fashion and music (Paradise Kiss, NANA) it’s fitting and pretty darn amazing that they were able to get her to do it (back in early 2000, but still).  And Kujiradou earns it with the ripped corsets and embellishing silk with all sorts of buckles.

OEL is moving in all sorts of new directions and growing so this isn’t to bag on it or anything like that.  But looking at Princess Ai doesn’t send me digging through my files to listen to Hole, it’s got me listening to

Mika Nakashima

Mika Nakashima, Olivia Lufkin, and Anna Tsuchiya – the girls of NANA.

But that’s probably because listening to Hole would only make me feel old.

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Sumi and Water

For the most part, I do my best to do the best job I can with the opportunities I’m given.  Verify sources, keep things cordial, keep my inner fangirl in check, make the deadline.  No bashing books, no love-ins; insightful critique and clean copy (steer clear of terms like “spanked” and “panties” – or at least try to); resort to writing about the punk stylish clothing in Shugo Chara and sweeping upsy-downsy hair styles in Parakiss only when necessary.  Be professional, take nothing personally, it’s just business.

But as far as this blog is concerned, business can’t wait to get personal.  I can’t always keep the inner fangirl in check – nor do I always want to.  I love comics and I love manga.  Or rather, for the sake of professionalism, I have developed certain….feelings for comics and manga.  But not everyone shares the love – er, feelings that I have towards both – manga is still a niche within graphic novels, a niche within publishing.  So it doesn’t take much for me to feel like the manga crasher at the comics party.

But every once in a while, a creator comes along that has me putting on my good shoes and my nice dress and throwing a little party of my own – one that typically includes me.  And Ed.  IM-ing me.  From Japan.  And that’s okay.

But this month, that changes.  Viz Media has launched a gigantic Takehiko Inoue campaign – Slam Dunk, his quintessential work, REAL, a series that, in my opinion, challenged him the most while allowing him to fuse two aesthetics in a storyline that further combines his two loves of basketball and drawing; Vagabond omnibus editions, and two books that I’ve been waiting for, gritting my teeth with anticipation, Sumi and Water.

It’s no secret that I harbor certain…feelings about Inoue-sensei’s work.  He is one of  my favorite creators for so many reasons.  Manga can be mass-produced and formulaic – either for the sake of the genre or the story (although often for both) – to the extent that both artwork and narrative start to feel old, stale, with characters looking the same, stories sounding the same.

But everything about Inoue-sensei’s work stands out in a fresh, lively way.  Not all that many creators have the range that he has – visually or narratively.  It’s common to see creators in Japan do series after series that are basically variations of the same thing.  Tsutomu Nihei is another creator whose work I feel strongly about, but BLAME!, ABARA, his Woverine: SNKT! comic for Marvel – were all in the same vein.  He does it incredibly well, but he pretty much does only one thing.  Inoue-sensei, on the other hand, does basketball and samurai.  And he does them both very, very well.

(from Water)

Sumi and Water are both artbooks that collect Inoue‘s lush Vagabond illustrations.  If you’ve only read Slam Dunk, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that he’d progress to this.  One of the many things that I love about his work is the inherent movement and life that spreads over the page.  Each picture tells a story.  Each picture conveys a certain emotion.  The energy of his lines is balanced by the stillness of his characters.  Inoue’s story of Miyamoto “I-don’t-bathe-but-I’m-still-damn-fine” Musashi isn’t just one of bushido, but one of becoming a man.

(from Sumi)

But the best part is that anyone who loves art or comics will want to get their mitts on these books.  Knowledge of Vagabond or manga isn’t a requisite.  Sumi and Water stand alone as the gateways to the rest of Inoue’s work.  And gateways ain’t a bad thing.

So this month, I’m having the party.  Everyone is invited, as always, I’ll be wearing my good shoes and my party dress.  But here’s the big bonus: people may actually show up.

(from Water)

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Lolitas in the NY Times

Bill Cunningham pulls together more street fashion for today’s Sunday Styles section in the New York Times.  Lo and behold….it’s a small shot, about three or four photos into the slideshow, but it’s Lolitas on the street.

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