Saturday, October 09, 2004

On Genre Manga

My buying habits on comics have changed over the past few decades. When I was in high school and college, I was into superheroes. Nowadays, I find myself buying manga. Specifically, "domestic" or "historical" manga.

Now by "domestic" I don't mean "made in North America" -- apart from MegaTokyo and Ben Dunn's Ninja High School I generally regard the idea of "North American manga" as a contradiction in terms. No, by "domestic" I mean taking place in a domestic setting.

A good example of this is Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkoku, about a college student wannabe who falls in love with his widowed landlady. Sounds pretty melodramatic, until one opens up the book and realizes that it's an honest-to-goodness situation comedy. I collected all of Viz Comic's initial paperback volumes (they're doing a second "original art" edition now) and I still get a kick out of Takahashi's portrayal of contemporary Tokyo.

Other titles that I'd put in this category include Tokyopop's Love Hina series by Ken Akamatsu and Comic Party by Sekihiko Inui, based on a videogame franchise of the same name. And of course there's Iron Wok Jan.

What I like about these titles is their artwork -- cartoony without being too overdone -- and I like the fact that these comics professionals understand the clich├ęs of manga and don't take them too seriously.

As for historical manga, naturally one thinks of Lone Wolf and Cub, as published by Dark Horse. Of course I've started picking up their Samurai Executioner series as well. The artwork here more closely resembles Western-style comics art, reminiscent of John Buscema, but the story and pacing are pretty much on a par with any Kurosawa flick.

I'm also recommending Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki, which combines the cartoony artwork style of Akamatsu with a more serious exploration of the transition period between the samurai period and the modern era.

Some people are fans of the sci-fi "giant robo" manga like Macross or Gundam or Evangelion. Needless to say I'm not one of them. I find contemporary and historical Japan to be exotic enough for graphic documentation; why go further?