Review: From the New World, Vol. 1

The relationship between manga and anime is a fruitful one; anime studios may pick a popular manga to adapt into a television show, a manga might be written as an adaptation of a popular anime work. Often times, these different works are based around some of the same core ideas and characters, but they are completely different.  Studios might make changes in storylines, in tone, or in other stylistic elements because the manga isn’t completed yet, or the manga might shorten certain storylines in order to fit them more appealingly into a print format. But what happens when you toss the Japanese fiction market into the mix? That’s the source of one of Vertical Inc.’s brand new releases, From the New World.

From the New World, Vol. 1Originally, From the New World was a high-fantasy fiction novel published in 2008. Written by Yusuke Kishi, the novel won the 29th Japan SF Grand Prize. Yusuke Kishi’s work has been published in English by Vertical Inc – his novel The Crimson Labyrinth was originally published in English in 2006. I’m not privy to the decisions book publishers make regarding fiction adaptations, but it was clear that this property was deemed a likely success in the shonen market. Four years after the book was originally published, it received a manga adaptation, and an anime adaptation shortly thereafter.

As a comic, From the New World is a really interesting piece of fiction. Humans have developed telekinesis and other psychic powers a millenium into the future. As children, they learn to develop those powers. In the background, however, more disturbing things are happening. Children who step out of line or who don’t make the grade often go missing. There are rumors of a “Dupe Cat” that hunts down the weak. And very strange and creepy things start happening after the students go off on summer vacation.

Most readers will come to From the New World via the anime simulcast on Crunchyroll. I had the opportunity to read the first volume of the manga, and then watched the first 7 episodes of the anime, for comparison. Which leads me to a question: how do you review From the New World? Is it enough to discuss the manga, or should we also discuss the anime adaptation? Both are now available in English for the first time.

What fans of the property will realize is that while there is a lot that is similar in the two adaptations, there is a lot that is different as well. Stylistic choices and costume redesigns abound. The storylines between the two follow a similar path, but take different steps to get there. By the time we reach the end of volume 1 of the manga, we have skipped a few scenes from the anime, and the cast is still largely together in one place.

The manga is also quite a bit more explicit than the anime. There are a few scenes in the manga that, to be frank, give it its +16 year old rating. How this plays into the storyline will probably come up at some point, but at this point into the anime, we already have some more contextual information about the scenes in question. I’m certain this content was written to titillate. I’m certain this will even drive some of the sales of the manga. Whether the explicit content at the end of volume 1 can be used to drive forward the story will have to be seen in volume 2, but at this point, it seems gratuitous to me.

The tone of From the New World is almost like a mix of the moe fan-favorite K-On! and another Vertical release, Knights of Sidonia. There are elements of that unfettered joy that permeate the first volume, coupled with the unhinging fact that, although we can’t see what’s happening, we know that a lot of things are going wrong. The image of hypercute girls stacking cards juxtaposed against the body horror of the Morph Rats is a really interesting element of the series, and lends to its unsettling nature. The world building is fantastic, but there is a lot that isn’t revealed in this first volume.

As a physical product, From the New World is the Vertical compact size – the same size as their release of Keiko Suenobu’s Limit. It’s slightly smaller than Knights of Sidonia, and approximately a half an inch smaller in width and height compared to the standard Tokyopop/Viz tankōbon.  Check out MW_alt for images.

Overall, I think that this type of high-fantasy is extremely rare in manga being localized currently, and I like what I’ve read so far, despite my misgivings about the explicit content in the first volume. And as for the anime along with the manga? Well, think of them as complementary. Both the anime and the manga bring their own information to the table. Without the anime, I would be a bit confused about some of the content in the manga. Without the manga, I would have put together much less about the storyline. Together, they create a fuller picture of this fantastic and strange new world that Kishi has imagined.

If anything, reading From the New World has convinced me to check out Kishi’s other fiction, and to watch some anime (something I hardly ever do). I think it’s a good start to what could potentially be a very strong series.


Review: Heroman, Vol. 1

Heroman, Vol. 1Heroman, Vol. 1
Written and Illustrated by Tamon Ohta | Original Concept Stan Lee + BONES
Genre: Shonen/Science Fiction
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
203 pages | $10.95 US, $11.95 CND
ISBN-13: 978-1935654582

Imagine, for a moment, that you could turn a toy robot into a hulking super hero, just by wanting to be special. In a nutshell, that is the premise of Heroman, an anime from studio BONES, in coordination with Stan Lee. Tamon Ohta’s adaptation of this  television show into the medium of comics has its high and low points. Let’s run it through. Joey Jones is a pretty average kid who ends up finding a toy robot that’s been smashed. He uses his scientific know-how to fix it up, but when a strange calamity strikes, Joey finds out that his toy robot can transform into Heroman, a powerful semi-sentient robot.

First, without getting too specific about plot, Stan Lee’s influence is immediately visible. From the setting, the stereotypes (the nerd, the blonde cheerleader, the football jock, the supportive minority friend), to even the names of the characters, its clear that Stan Lee’s influence is pervasive. For those of you who don’t read American comics, Stan Lee is the creator of comics like The Amazing Spiderman, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and more. Lee is even featured in some of the panels of the comic (much like his walk on appearances in most of the Marvel movies). And while Lee can construct some interesting fantasies, he requires that your suspension of belief be at maximum – and that’s not something that generally works for Heroman for an analyzing or critical reader.

Most stories in manga are implausible. Psyren for instance, is about a game where people travel back and forth through time, called forth by a mental psychic program called Nemesis Q. Not exactly believable. But what makes these implausible stories interesting is how characters interact, how the fantasies are called forth, and if the world created by these fantasies is cohesive. While Heroman certainly has its own breed of storytelling, I can’t say that it works for me as a critical reader. I find the characters to be what are essentially one-note stereotypes (our hero, Joey Jones is especially so, being nothing but a characterization of faith and doubt), and their interactions are then doomed to be similar stereotypes (the jock vs. the nerd, the hottie defends the nerd vs. the jock, etc.). The fantasies constructed are interesting enough (bug creatures invade the Earth, Heroman is our only hope, “with you, I can fight!”) but the way that they are constructed is haphazard.

More interesting is Joey Jones’ internal struggle in the later half of the book, although it ends in a very spectacular, over-the-top manner like the beginning of the book. We see him trying to come to grips with Heroman and his abilities, and his responsibilities (a la Peter Parker). Our hero manages to come out of his slump and successfully battles more bugs – with a bit of a twist ending that is certainly going to escalate the action in Volume 2.

Dispite my misgivings about the story construction, Heroman feels great for younger readers. There are a lot of messages about hope and friendship that we often see in shonen manga, but they are amped to 11 in Heroman. Younger readers who are more likely to suspend their disbelief, will find this bug squashing, ghost busting beat-em-up to be a real thrill, and it has a typical shonen ethos. I like this comic a lot in the traditional shonen age group, because it looks good, there is a lot of action, and it doesn’t bother getting technical about the fantasy. It’s all POW and WOW, and very little else. This is an untapped audience for most manga in the USA, Chi’s Sweet Home being a notable exception.

The production value on Heroman seems a bit lower than Vertical‘s regular releases. I assume this is because they are trying to fit into a price slot controlled by Viz Media, Kodansha, and Yen Press, but I am used to cleaner, whiter paper and higher-quality inks. This type of production is also present in releases of The Limit, which I will likely review next week. (of note, josei works like Sakuran and Paradise Kiss both have beautiful production, Vertical‘s standard).

Overall, I recommend Heroman to younger readers, but find that if you want your science fiction to be better explained, you aren’t going to enjoy Heroman. If you are turned off by stereotypes, Heroman again might not be your thing. Slightly lower production quality keeps it in an affordable price range, and this book (plus or minus a Heroman DVD) would be a great present for a 8-12 year old.

For Fans Of: The Amazing Spiderman, One Piece, “Friendship, Hard Work, and Victory”
Final Verdict: Recommended with reservations


Nick Simmons and the Entitlement Age

As I so eloquently stated on Wednesday, Nick Simmons is a moron. My prowess at verbalizing my distaste in this whole plagiarism business notwithstanding let’s look at the facts, or, what we can assume are facts.

1. Nick Simmons, on the back of his father’s popularity, develops a comic book called Incarnate. Published by Radical Comics, the book’s illustration style has a lot of similarities to the generally perceived manga style.

2. Nick putzes around for a while, doing his thing, and Radical gets ready for a release of the first part of the series as a trade.

3.  People start seeing similarities between Incarnate and scanlated Bleach chapters. Let’s take a look at some of Nick’s “talent”:

That looks awfully similar. Let’s have another go.

The plot thickens. Or rather, comes to a stop at the corner of Stupid Street and Now You Fucked Up Avenue. (Many thanks to the folks on livejournal compiling these images. I shamelessly borrowed them from this compilation entry by karenai.)

4. Radical responds to the accusations by putting a hold on the project and by putting out a blanket statement about making things right.

5. The INTERWEB starts to really freak out. I mean really.

6. Nick releases a statement via representative that takes no responsibility for copied work. Surprise! (Remember, Nick’s car is still parked at the corner of Stupid Street and Now You Fucked Up Avenue.)

7. The NY Times prints a story on the whole debacle.

8. Fans continue to freak out.

9. Alex writes about the issue at Manga Widget.

10. People cool off over the weekend, and generally get back to their own little lives.


My main thought about this entire business is: well, that really sucks for Radical. Nick can’t really be harmed here, because it is unlikely that Viz Media will sue over the plagiarism, and he’s already generated profit on content that wasn’t his. If the comic is canceled, well, that’s a shame on him. He probably won’t be able to do comic work again, or if he does, it will have to be drastically different, and he’ll have people breathing down his neck the entire time. Still, he’s lost something in the opportunity, but not in actual fiscal units. In short, his money is protected.

For Radical, though, the consequences are more severe. The publishing group was getting ready to release a hard copy of the first three books later this month (March 16th, to be precise). That means they’ve probably already gotten the books printed, which is no small expense, especially in hardback. Now they have content which they cannot sell, a series that cannot generate them funds, and a whole lot of cash sunk into what is now a dead project. I don’t think my fair reader needs an intricate understanding of rocket science to know that that’s an outcome that sucks big thrust engines.

Radical is a company that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of time in the sun, and especially when their main product lines compete with the Big Two (DC and Marvel), the room for error is slim. A mistake/grievous error that is not their fault could be the foot on the neck of the company. Radical’s only recourse is to sue the creator for the cost of producing a good that was supposed to be original, and was not. Let us hope that Radical can use this breach of contract to extract the cost of these books from the hide of the selfish, moronic Simmons. If you have a chance to stop by your local comic book store, take a look at some of the wares that Radical has to offer. Take a chance on a company that could use a little extra help right now. You might find something you like.

The other party that is damaged here is anyone that purchased Incarnate. These customers bought content that they expected to be original, and it was not. This is a huge breach of trust, and hopefully, Nick Simmons will no longer be able to find work in the comics industry.

According to the buzz around the internet (since I do not read Bleach, admittedly),  the plagiarized content was from chapters that have not been published in English. This means that Simmons is a thief in multiple ways. And to be honest, he’s just like many anime and manga fans here in the US.

Let me say that again. The idiot thief, Nick Simmons, is just like most anime and manga fans. Entitlement-minded. Granted, he may have been a little more extreme about it than other anime and manga fans, but his outlook is the same. I deserve, he says. I deserve to read Bleach scans without paying for them, he says. I love the comic! I am its fan! I love Bleach! Soon it becomes something more. I deserve comics for free. Again, it evolves. I deserve to have my own comic book. I’m a decent artist, I can make it in the comics industry. I deserve to have some fame in the comics industry. I deserve a mark of my own!  (And when he realizes he does not have the skill to make his wishes come true, he does the next best thing – he borrows someone else’s skill to make his own dream a reality.) It’s this (0r a version of this) entitlement mentality that plagues the anime/manga community.

Through my research for this post, I have become completely disheartened by the fans of manga and anime. This post especially shows the brazen arrogance and entitlement mentality of many anime and manga fans. As Matt Blind explains the basic concepts of entertainment, the author continues to claim a right to content he does not own or need. He merely wants it, and he’s going to get it. To hell with Gosho Aoyama, and the company that supports him.  The adaptation isn’t good enough, so instead of refusing to buy it, he just steals it instead. YEAH DUDE! STICK IT TO THE MAN!

Dear fanboy.  You do not have a right to entertainment. People have staked their lives on being able to get paid for creating original work that you enjoy. To steal from the authors and studios you love is to destroy them. By downloading this content, Aoyama-sensei and Tite Kubo don’t receive any compensation for their work, and your decision (in economic logic) tells these creators that their content cannot sell.  By stealing work, you promote the destruction of the things you love the most.

And please, do not come onto my blog to justify your theft. You are a shoplifter of entertainment, and there can be no justification for that. You do not need manga scans every week. You don’t need manga. You don’t need anime. What you need is a cold hard reality check.

That goes to you too, Nick.


Moé the Escape Artist

It took me a while, but I’ve finally seen what everyone has been discussing this past week. The collective blogsphere is taking a closer look at moé, and for obvious reasons. Moé, for those of your who don’t know, is a word that means, roughly, “a plant sprouting,” and it’s a word that’s used to describe a style and sometimes genre of anime and manga that feature characters that are youthful, innocent, and cute.

It’s surprising, but moé is about 1/3 of the expenditure of the entire manga and anime market in Japan,according to the figures as recounted in this recent blog re-post by Scott VonSchilling. If you tally up your yen and do some converting, you’ll find that’s quite a bit of cash (just under $1 billion US). His information also states that unmarried men in their 30s account for the large majority of the market for moé in Japan.

Moé has been on the “otaku internet shitlist” for a little while now, because many people associate it with pedophilia. People make this link fairly quickly, because characters in moé anime and manga are drawn, colored, sculpted, and printed to look young, innocent, and evoke some sort of response from the people that are a part of the moé market. The real question, and the question that causes a lot of conversation, is what kind of response does moé initiate?  And furthermore, is that response appropriate?

Some have said that moé flourishes because men want to be fathers; I’m not exactly sure that’s the case for everyone who likes moé. The same could be said about the idea that moé is a form of pedophilia, which is a valid point because moé and lolicon have quite a bit of overlap due to their “cute” nature. I don’t necessarily believe that that’s the whole case, although the evidence that moé is sexualized is quite apparent.

My thought is that moé is just like many other forms of manga and anime; that moé is a form of escapism, but it’s not necessarily a “healthy escapism,” as Scott puts it. The base consumer is an unmarried man who’s window of opportunity to have a family is slipping away. This is obviously a kind of depressing thought. Some men use moé to escape from the realities of their social and familial position. In this context it can be sexualized, but isn’t necessarily a completely perverted thing. After all, I don’t think I know a person who doesn’t like to see something cute every once in a while, and who has never called a baby cute?

I  think that escapism is a better answer than “everyone is looking for a child of their own” or “everyone who likes moé is a pervert,” but it certainly isn’t complete. Escaping from the dreary office, dirty subway, and single apartment life might be a normal activity, but idolizing cute dolls and characters isn’t necessarily healthy.