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I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow
Vol. 1
Shunju Aono
Viz
2010

As my twenties slowly drew to a close, I looked forward to turning 30 with no small amount of dread. But hey, at least I’m not 40! Shizuo Oguro is, and like so many men his age, he’s itching for a change in his life. His work unfulfilling, his life rather aimless, he finds himself looking for a new path that will give his life some direction and meaning. For many men in Shizuo’s position, such a midlife crisis is quickly solved by buying a sports car or finding religion. Not so for Shizuo, who quits his job and spends his days wandering the neighborhood and playing video games until inspiration finally strikes. His new goal in life? Becoming a manga artist! Never mind that Shizuo’s passion far outweighs his artistic abilities, or that he still has a teenage daughter to raise on his own (with a little help from his flabbergasted father, who also lives with Shizuo and can hardly believe his son’s seemingly delusional aspirations). Despite the odds against him and his new goal, Shizuo resolves to truly give it his all.

Resigned from his dull but secure desk job, Shizuo takes a job in fast food to support his family while pursuing his creative dreams. Working and hanging out with people nearly half his age — captions in many of these scenes list the various characters’ ages, highlighting his growing anxiety over his perceived (and real) lack of progress in his life compared to his younger peers — he tries to recapture the carefree spirit of his youth while simultaneously asserting the value of his age and experience. Whether it’s in his clumsy attempts to impress girls, or in his early drafts of cliche-ridden manga, Shizuo clings desperately to the belief that his age is an asset, and that his life experience, however dull it might have been, will give him the edge he needs to succeed.


I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow is a deadpan but emotionally resonant slice of life comedy, with a premise that might feel familiar to anyone who’s read American Splendor or at least knows the tale of the late, great Harvey Pekar. But Pekar possessed an insightful appreciation of the mundane, an intelligent sense of cynicism, and a clear understanding of himself, all qualities that Shizuo lacks in spades. He also had help from numerous gifted artists willing to help bring his ideas to life. Shizuo’s artistic abilities — to put it in the most positive light possible — show potential, but are still a little too rough around the edges for publication. Will he ever find his muse and take his skills to the next level? Shizuo isn’t the brightest guy or the hardest worker (despite devoting all-nighters to his manga), and as a dad he’s nearly lost touch with his daughter Suzuko (who seems to relate to him more as a clumsy big brother than as a father). Despite his shortcomings, he’s a likable lead character, one you’ll want to root for through all the ups and downs of his quest for mangaka glory.

Allow me to vent for just a minute. I’m currently stuck in a dead-end job I despise, one where I wait on kids (er, usually 22 or 23 year-olds) fresh out of college who’ve just landed themselves a great job with a bright future. I’m still trying to start over and find a better career for myself, which has been a challenging and lengthy process, to say the least. I still go through periods of trying to “find myself,” despite being out of my teens and twenties, the time that society deems it most appropriate to try out new pursuits and identities in the way that I’d still like to do. While it makes no sense to constantly compare myself to others or regret my choices, I still catch myself doing it on a constant basis, regardless of the ill effects this has on my self-esteem (Psychology Today has a great article this month on this very phenomenon). Yet, I still want to believe that I have something worthwhile to offer to the world, an untapped potential that’s just waiting to be found, one that I’ll get around to discovering… one of these days. Maybe everyone feels like this sometimes? If you ever do, you’ll find plenty to relate to in I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow.


This is the sort of title that’s poised to crossover to open-minded fans Western graphic novels. The story has a universal appeal, and the art style is very loose, looking more at home next to newspaper or in Japanese 4-koma comics than it does with traditional manga. It’s easy to imagine this having a good deal of success in America and beyond, if only it were shelved next to some of these books at Borders instead of Inuyasha. But hopefully savvy readers will still seek it out. Like Kingyo Used Books, IGIMA…T is a kind of meta-manga that explores the relationship between manga, readers, and artists in Japan. While it’s just one author’s take on the subject, I think it’s another insightful look at the culture and its prevailing attitudes, which are commonly painted in the most broad strokes throughout American fandom. Obviously, it’s not exactly an action-packed title, but every chapter is consistently rewarding in its own quiet way. Highly recommended, especially if you’re looking for a story that’s a little off the beaten path.

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I love buying DVDs. I wish I didn’t quite so much. I’d sure save a lot of money that way, but for better or worse, that’s the kind of anime fan I am, I guess.

I’d certainly buy more if they weren’t so expensive. But are they really? For years now I’ve been hearing people say that anime on DVD is even more expensive in Japan than it is here in the states. I’ve never found an explanation for this. Wouldn’t a country with more anime viewers/potential customers make for a more mass produced/cheaper product? I’m no student of economics, but it would seem to me that this logic would hold true across different cultures. Now I have heard that titles are deliberately delayed from being distributed in the US due to our comparatively low prices — which would entice Japanese fans to actually import their discs from America rather than buying them from the shop down the street — but I don’t know how much truth there is to that. But that’s a tangent of the matter that I’m trying to investigate here.

On Amazon’s Japanese website, the DVD for Evangelion 1.11 appears to have a standard retail price of ¥5,040, with Amazon selling it for a discounted price of ¥3,763. That’s about $58 and $43 in American dollars (according to this website, as all conversions in this entry will be). This discounted price in Japan is still higher than the standard retail price here in America of $29.98, with Amazon.com currently offering the film for as little as $13.49.

In Japan, Amazon is selling Ponyo for ¥3,651 (srp ¥4,935). That’s $42 and almost $57, respectively. The list price on Amazon.com for Americans? $29.99, with a sale price of $16.49.

I don’t even know how to wrap my mind around something like this. Like most of the series I’ve tried to look up, there’s rarely any kind of box set available, let alone a discounted “slim” set, as so many series are eventually released in here in America. A search for Bamboo Blade yields 10 results, each appearing (as best as I can tell) to be a single disc selling for ¥8,190, or about $94. The only exception is first result on the page, with a possible entry-level, “bargain” price of ¥ 4,935 (almost $57), on sale for ¥ 4,036 ($46). If you add up the cost of every disc on this page (assuming each disc is unique, which is probably a big assumption for me to make), the total comes to about ¥77,746, or $893.53.

Bamboo Blade, which I’m currently watching over on ANN, runs for 26 episodes. Now I’m going to admit that my methods for figuring this all out might be horribly flawed. If I’ve made any egregious errors, then I hope some better-informed reader of this entry will help correct my mistakes. Because it looks like Japanese fans buying Japanese DVDs are paying out about $34 per Bamboo Blade episode. How any fan is able to afford this is beyond me. Meanwhile, American fans can pick up the entire series on Amazon for just about $50.

For all our pissing and moaning about what gets licensed and doesn’t, or how anime companies are trying to “rip us off,” maybe we really don’t have it all that bad.


Eden: It’s an Endless World!
Vol. 2-7
Hiroki Endo
Dark Horse
2006 – 2007

Aside from its use of cyberpunk tropes, from artificial intelligence to cybernetic bodies, the dystopian future of Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! could almost pass for a modern day gangster story. And that’s one of the least likely genres that I imagined the plot moving towards after the first volume, with its reflective, existentialist tones. Eden seemed focused on a bigger picture, one ecological and geopolitical in nature. Nothing less than the fate of the world seemed to be at stake. If only it were that simple.

As the series has progressed, such greater problems have gradually given way to “smaller” ones: poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, organized crime and corrupt government. While the ragtag band of mercenaries and outcasts that make up the story’s protagonists are able to prove themselves in combat through teamwork and sheer will in early volumes, overcoming such social pressures (along with new foes) could prove to be too much for them to handle. But for the characters of Eden, life isn’t about changing the world, but just surviving in it one day at a time. This, as it turns out throughout volumes two through seven, is never a easy matter.

Volume 2 opens with the central protagonist, 15 year-old Elijah Ballard, unwittingly teamed up with a band of resistance fighters in the Andes Mountains. His companions (formerly his captors) set out to escape territory controlled by the right-wing, global dictatorship known as Propater. Outmanned and outgunned, they face off against their opponents in some of the most elaborately composed and intense action scenes that I’ve ever come across in manga. I’m no expert on the form so I can’t say how Endo stacks up against the greats as an artist, but I’ve got to admit that his attention to detail, no matter how gruesome it can be at times, is unmatched in my book.

Pretty pictures aside, his attention to detail concerning the characters is what makes Eden such a great read. The more manga I read (not to mention the anime I watch), the more I notice authors consistently going the extra mile to fully develop not just the protagonists, but the villains as well. From acclaimed Studio Ghibli films to popular shonen series, characters’ backgrounds and motivations are often explored to a degree that’s rarely considered (or truly valued) here in the West. This is a broad statement, for sure, but I think that most fans of manga and anime would agree with it to some extent. Eden operates well within this tradition, devoting multiple chapters to its characters’ troubled pasts. Little is revealed of the quiet but ruthless assassin Kenji during the first few volumes, until we’re treated to a flashback of his childhood and the events that lead him to choose such a dangerous path in his life. We also get to know the cyborg hacker Sophia, the gang lord Pedro, the prostitute Helena, the circumstances they faced from birth and the choices they made which eventually entangle their fates inextricably together.

In short, we’re presented with characters deep enough to, if not truly care about, then at least empathize with. This is important as it’s made clear quite early on, no character is truly safe from the violent twists of fate that are so common in Eden‘s hostile world. This left me more shocked and shaken than I’ve been by a manga in quite some time, and I don’t expect any respite in future volumes.

I’ll admit that I’m far from the most seasoned reader of manga in the otakusphere, but I think I can recognize a great book when I see one. Eden: It’s an Endless World! continues to be one of the more ambitious mangas I’ve ever read. Even as it’s set its sights on more conventional targets, it’s continued to grow more intriguing. With no small amount of trepidation, I look forward to more.

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
When I listen to music, it’s either in my living room on my computer (through what I like to think are decent stereo speakers), on a CD in my car (probably the main reason I still buy CDs, including this one), or through earbuds on my cheap, refurbished mp3 player. Cosmogramma, like the last two albums from “FlyLo,” sounds great at home, doesn’t work well as driving music at all, and makes for a moody soundtrack on a late spring’s evening stroll. I don’t enjoy it as much as Los Angeles or perhaps even 1983, as it feels a little more cluttered and claustrophobic than I’d like, though I realize that he needed to step up and make something a little more difficult than those albums if he wanted to take advantage of the fortunate (and well deserved!) position that he’s found himself in in 2010. Once again, Laura Darlington provides a cool and sultry album-closer (er, second to last track this time, close enough) and is the most memorable of album’s guests. As they say on teh Interwebs: moar!

Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
In my first installment of this column (if you can call it that) I was pining for a new Crystal Castles release. Almost overnight, another self-titled album was suddenly announced, and it’s a great example of a band maturing — possibly one of the least likely bands to really do so — without losing their edge or any of what made their earliest efforts sound edgy, brash, or fun. The Chiptune influence is a little less obvious on this album, but Crystal Castles are still playing with dated sounds in fresh new ways. They’re not content to be bratty electro-punks anymore, but seem to have a real interest in glossy pop and ambitions to respectfully deconstruct it into something that’s uniquely theirs. Again, there’s plenty of ear-splitting moments — “Doe Deer” finds Alice’s vocals redlined into completely incomprehensible noise — but it turns out that the Enyaesque “Tell Me What To Swallow” from the debut was really a sign of things to come. It’s still hard to tell whether the emotion in these songs is genuine or just a ploy, but after several listens it was enough to make me feel sorry for ever prejudging these two for their petty crimes against indie decency.

Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?
Honestly, I’ve loved this band since Solar Bridge came out, but now that they’ve been approved by Pitchfork, every dork who’s drooling over new Arcade Fire and M.I.A. songs is catching on and rushing to an opinion about them, and they’re well on their way to being just another indie band for college kids to put on their iPods. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a really stunning album that overshadows and obliterates anything it’s set next to, whether it’s twee indie rock or anyone else’s other space-age drone project. The songs are shorter this time out and more “musical” than in the past, with guitar solos bubbling up below the noisy surface, but it still feels like their biggest and most ambitious recording to date. Play this on your next trip through the star gate or journey into the Dirac Sea.

Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
A year ago I was turned on to the fantastic and deep double-length collection Rifts, which compiled the first few EPs from OPN (given name Daniel Lopatin). I thought I was hearing some familiar influences: Boards of Canada, Para One, moody instrumental hip-hop or classic IDM, all stuff that I either liked or loved, and was probably attracted to out of a sense of familiarity. Lopatin threatens to blow these warm and fuzzy feelings apart in the opening minutes of Returnal, which opens with a cacophonous noise piece before easing back into the kind of keyboard-driven ambiance that he’s better known for. Except for the title track (which sounds like The Knife, as I’m sure every review is bound to mention), there’s not a whole lot to distinguish Returnal from his past works. But maybe that perception is just the inevitable result of him releasing so much music in so little time, and me being a blogger trying to absorb and honestly sort it out. Keener ears might discover some changes from Rifts that I simply can’t catch. But I really do like this and think it’s worth the attention it’s received, and I’m glad that he’s made the jump from a virtual unknown about a year ago to the kind of status that he’s (hopefully) enjoying today.

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
I don’t know if I’ve so consistently enjoyed an artist as I have over the last decade as I have LCD Soundsystem while still managing to take them so for granted. The self-titled album was a favorite of mine back in 2004, until it was stolen from my car, leaving me with no memory of what it really sounded like other than the essential singles included on the bonus disc. Sound of Silver sounded great in 2007, until it became the favorite album of every Modest Mouse/Spoon/Wolf Parade white bread indie fan (all very eager to relate to his personal songs in all the most superficial ways). Hopefully, This Is Happening will escape such fates, and for all the fun I’ve had with it for the past two months, it seems like it stands a good chance to. “Drunk Girls” sounded awful as a lead single, but of course I’ve come around to it by now. Otherwise, it’s just more of James Murphy doing what he does best.

DeepChord Presents: Echospace – Liumin
Another DeepChord release, or is it by Echospace? What’s the difference, and why carry on with such a confusing moniker? Anyway, this is one hell of an immersive album, pushing minimal techno to its limits. Each track bleeds into the next, making Liumin sound less like a collection or even a work of art than some kind of loop-propelled journey into the neon-lit night as seen on the cover. This can all go by rather quick if you let it but rewards attentive listening. I’m not sure if they (or anyone, really) have ever truly moved past the Basic Channel-inspired sound that they’re either copying or paying tribute to here, but if this is the sound of electronic music spinning its wheels, then I don’t think we have much to complain about.

Efdemin – Chicago
As a listener who sits in front of the computer for hours at a time, and who takes his mp3 player on walks during breaks at work, I enjoy most of this album for the space that it gives me to think. Of course, there’s some good dance beats at work, and I’m sure that even I could find a way to work about half of these tracks into a good house music set. But there’s a sort of joyless monotony to about a third of it, less suited to dance floors than to assembly lines for low-wage workers. I guess what I mean is, there’s always a sense of momentum, of moving forward, but occasionally it seems to lose sight of anything higher. I know, I couldn’t possibly be any more vague than that. This album has a workmanlike feel to it in both the best and the worst sense of the word, I guess.

Glimpse – Runner
I really feel this even though there’s nothing obvious to it that’s really grabbing my ear. Economical, no-gimmick deep house that makes my apartment a nicer-sounding place to live. I keep coming back for more and trying to figure out what it is that I like about it.


Some day I’ll probably sit down and write a proper, all-purpose Naruto entry. Today is not that day.

I loathe spoilers and our spoiler-ridden culture, and have gone out of my way to avoid spoilers regarding Naruto ever since I started watching it almost two years ago. But it’s been a futile and ultimately losing battle. With every cursory glance I’ve taken at the Internet to look up anything about the show at all, I knew I was running the risk of being blindsided by information that I didn’t want to know, and that my sixth sense for detecting spoilers in advance was probably not as strong as I’d liked to pretend it was. It only takes one bile-ridden rant in a Hulu viewer comments field — penned by a half-literate, scanlation-entitled, Internet-raised tween, probably — to wipe out an entire season’s worth of plot developments before I’d even have a chance to see them for myself.

Of all the Naruto spoilers I unwillingly encountered over the past two years, there was one in particular that seemed to be spread across the Internet with a vigor and urgency that went unmatched, one that bloggers and message board posters seemed compelled to shout from their digital rooftops. It would just happen to concern the fate of a certain supporting character that I’d grown rather fond of over the past 380+ episodes of both Naruto series (despite only appearing in a fraction of them). I greeted this news with a fair amount of skepticism at first, either because it concerned my favorite character or because the sources for this rumor were simply full of shit more often than not, before finally giving in and accepting that it was probably a legit spoiler. I didn’t know how or when it would occur, but I figured I was pretty well prepared for it.

The events that finally transpired in episode number 166 decisively proved my expectations wrong. What left me so shocked and surprised wasn’t necessarily the spoiler itself, but the show’s sudden willingness to turn on its often predictable past, give this moment the kind of setup that it so deserved, and finally deliver a fitting resolution to it. It was, after all, one of the longest-running subplots of the entire series, so it was destined to end in a dramatic and important fashion, right? I never thought so. For the entirety of Shippuden so far, such subplots have been pushed aside, much to the dismay of large swaths of fans but probably to the benefit of the story overall. It seemed unlikely that one such as this would suddenly be re-introduced, let alone be given such a rich treatment.

I guess I’m just surprised because it’s seemed, for quite some time now, that the writers had lost interest in the supporting cast altogether, and were either not in tune or simply not interested in the desires of most of their readers and viewers. I’m unable to make up my mind as to whether or not they ever should be, but the point remains that the plot’s focus had narrowed to a much smaller cast of characters, leaving one to wonder when or if any of the others would ever return to the spotlight. I suppose it was inevitable that at least one eventually would, but I didn’t expect her to be treated with this kind of dignity after being an object of casual dismissal for so long.

If this reads like a whiny screed from a raving fan who seems to know what’s best for the story even more than the writers, that’s because it probably is. But I just want a chance to iterate my pleasure over this episode, the sharp and moving dialog that went into its second half, the work that went into the action sequences, and the general willingness to do something totally unexpected… at least for those fans who didn’t know it was coming, as it should be.

A very recent post over on Anime Yume explores the recurring theme of self-sacrifice in anime, and is worth a read to anyone who enjoys shonen series like Naruto and its ilk. Is this episode yet another instance of this common trope, or does it actually buck the trend? Here we have a character who’s thrown herself into a sacrificial role, only to openly admit to herself, her fellow characters, and the audience (with transparent honesty and a lack of self-delusion) to having purely selfish motivations for doing so. For a character defined by meekness and a chronic sense of hesitancy, it was an act that marked her final passage to self-actualization, triumph over her most persistent flaws, and the ultimate fulfillment of her longest-held desires. It represents one of the series’ most interesting and satisfying cases of character development, one that wouldn’t be so believable if it wasn’t years in the making.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. I just hope I can avoid finding out for myself before it actually airs.

Kingyo Used Books
Vol. 1
Seimu Yoshikazi
Viz
2010

Manga in America, for all its successes over the past decade or two, has never been an easy sell. Aside from the easiest and most obvious markets for their products aside — anime fans, comic book readers, kids — it hasn’t been easy for publishers to cross over into the larger, more mainstream audiences that could potentially enjoy the medium. Whether or not they even should is another issue, but you can’t deny that readers of science fiction and romance books (to name only two notable groups) would find much to love if they could only get past their personal hang-ups over comics in general. To push back against these stereotypes, the general strategy has long been to promote manga for its mature qualities, including its adult themes and complex storytelling, all elements that would definitely appeal to a hip and intelligent reader like you. In other words, these are not your grandfather’s comics and you’re definitely not reading them for the laughs like he did. Manga is serious business, right? Not kids stuff!

I’ll venture to guess that they’re long past this sort of conversation in Japan, where manga is mainstream and a regular staple for readers both young and old (or so I’ve been lead to believe over the years, but that’s a different topic for another day). The characters in Kingyo Used Books sure do love their manga, and don’t have any trouble enjoying it for its simple pleasures… not to mention its inspiring, life-changing powers. These reasons are explored through several serendipitous tales centered around the titular bookstore and its staff and customers. This is a lighthearted read that occasionally indulges in the sort of hefty sentimentality that’s probably bound to divide readers, although I doubt that most of the sort that would gag at typical scenes like this will likely bother picking up the book in the first place:


I enjoyed Kingyo Used Books as a welcome break from reading the violent and grim Eden. It’s a relaxing and pleasant read, and for Western readers, it’s an enlightening journey into Japanese otakudom as it’s rarely portrayed in manga or anime. We’re used to experiencing both mediums as being uniquely, urgently new: their very style (to say nothing about their stories) embodies a certain youthful spirit, and their continued rise seems to point the way forward into a digital, synergistic future without borders. Few readers today ever pause to ponder what manga was like before the Internet, much less where it was 30 or 40 years ago. This dusty history is revisited throughout Kingyo, primarily by characters reconnecting with their pasts through nostalgic memories of their favorite manga, or through the continued devotion of lifetime fans who never stopped reading in the first place. Titles from the past, both classic and obscure, play a major role in each of the seven chapters, but you don’t need to be very familiar with them to understand their meaning. There’s plenty of notations throughout to keep readers informed, as well as a nice collection of notes at the end of the volume that should satisfy readers hungry for more.

If you’re looking for realistic, slice-of-life drama, Kingyo‘s pathos might come on a little too strong at times. However, I found the characters likable enough to look past the more implausible plot elements. And if you have the same cataloger/curator/collector mindset as I do, you’ll no doubt be pulled in by the subject matter.

The message of Kingyo is simple: in personal (or interpersonal!) ways, manga can be something more than mere entertainment, especially when the right reader finds the right title at just the right time in their life. Is this an American-style apology for manga, a plea for older readers to finally take it seriously (or, in this case, to come back and take it seriously again)? I don’t know how readers in Japan change their habits as they grow up, but in times like these, I’m sure that people everywhere are looking to find escape, revisit their youthful pursuits, or embrace the simpler pleasures of life. If you’re looking for a quick fix, picking up some manga might do the trick, and a book like Kingyo Used Books could be a great place to start with. Or to even start all over.

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