Four-Leaf Clover Girl – Yotsuba

YotsubaA laid back, low maintenance comedy about the adorable but naïve little girl Yotsuba Koiwai.

Manga Title: Yotsuba
Mangaka: ­Azuma Kiyohiko
Genres: Comedy, slice-of-life
Demographic: Shounen

Yotsuba is exactly the easy-to-follow sort of read to uplift you, make you chuckle and give you a truly moe kind of feel. The main character is, of course, Yotsuba (which means four-leaf clover), a five year old, innocent girl learning all about the world around her. At the start of the manga she moves to a new town with her single parent father. Yotsuba’s father apparently found her abandoned in an overseas country, deciding to raise her.

yotsuba and dad

Yotsuba and dad

Her adventures begin immediately as she starts to wander her new neighborhood, meeting her neighbors – the Ayase household – that consists of 3 daughters: Asagi, Fuuka, Ena and their parents.

Yotsuba

The Ayase Family

Most of Yotsuba focuses purely on her interactions with adults or kids slightly older than her, and the humor is most often derived from the way she reacts in an inexperienced, brash kind of way. These include Yotsuba’s father’s only friend, a giant of a guy named Jumbo, who visits occasionally and likes to take Yotsuba and her friends out.

Yotsuba

Yup, he’s huge

Yotsuba begins to see the Ayase’s as family, going over to their house frequently and unintentionally getting up to mischief. The family members also visit her and her father regularly, which creates for some comic moments.

The art is what I’d called moe in at least one of its definitions – ‘a non-sexual desire to hug, love and protect’ (from Wikipedia), which it has in buckets. Other than that, it’s mostly situational comedy with Yotsuba reacting to the happenings around her in humorous ways. It’s not ROTFL material, but it’ll have you giggling plenty.

Yotsuba

Ooops! She let the cicadas out

Within You and Without You – Inside Mari

mariThe most recent work by Shuzo Oshimi, the mangaka behind The Flowers of Evil, is another psychologically delving title that takes us deep into the thoughts of its main character – Mari.

Manga Title: Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological, drama, gender bender, mystery
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
Isao Komori, a college student who’s become a reclusive hikikomori, spends day after day playing away his time with games, erotic manga and visiting a local convenience store every night to get a glimpse of his ‘angel’.

Inside Mari

Isao Komori

His angel is none other than Mari Yoshizaki, a teenage high school girl – someone who looks for all intents and purposes like a model, moral student.

Usually Isao follows her every night for a short while before returning home, however one night she inexplicably turns around, staring him right in the eyes. The next morning Isao wakes up to find that he’s inside Mari – he’s taken over her body.

Inside Mari

Mari Yoshizaki

Spending an embarrassing day at school as Mari, he finds it difficult to keep up the pretense that he is a girl, whilst also trying not to do anything perverse to his angel despite being in her body. After searching for and finding his male self, he discovers that he is completely unaware of any change, going about life as usual.

Left with no other option, Isao temporarily has to be Mari, beginning a life whose social, physical and mental situations are completely unknown to him.

Inside Mari

A day in the life

Pencil Sketch:
Two main characters take up most of the stage, Mari (with Isao inside her) and Mari’s close but undisclosed friend Yori Kakiguchi. Isao is straightforwardly perverted, thus he’s immediately challenged to keep his hands to himself being inside Mari. Aside from that, not being a particularly social person in the first place, he’s constantly embarrassed and at a loss for what to do being surrounded by Mari’s peer group.

After being at school it becomes apparent that Mari truly is a hardworking student who is regarded highly by her peers. Trying to maintain the façade of being her increases in difficultly when going to the restroom, getting close to and even holding hands with other girls – Isao literally has a permanent blush on his face.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, Mari’s clandestine friend Yori enters. It appears they’d maintained a secret friendship as Yori isn’t in with Mari’s current group and she doesn’t want to spoil her social life.

Inside Mari

Yori Kakiguchi

Yori usually observes Mari quite closely, so she notices something is amiss, and confronts her about it. Backed into a corner, Isao reveals that he’s inside Mari – a situation that Yori is both creeped out by and concerned about. She’s desperate to make sure that until they recover the original Mari, Isao not even look at Mari’s (his) body while changing, let alone do anything to disrupt the flow of her daily life.

It’s revealed that Yori’s relationship with Mari, though secret, is extremely close and she is quite fixated with her.

Being the shut-in that he is, Isao blunderingly tries to maintain face, navigating his way through the complex storm that is a high school girl in Japan’s community life. He winds up discovering that the life of a girl is not quite the dream-life he may once have imagined.

Inking:
What I expected from Inside Mari was perhaps another gender bender drawing on the amusing and awkward idea of someone being put into a person of the opposite sex’s body. Inside Mari is that, but so much more. Without singing Shuzo Oshimi’s praises too much, I have to say that he’s done it again; I haven’t read through a manga as fast as this in a while. Shuzo’s skill at portraying the clumsy awkwardness of youth and relationships between the sexes, the mental turmoil of puberty, the purity as well as the darkness of the mind as it grows into maturity – is amazingly done.

Like in The Flowers of Evil, he’s captured a tension and a need-to-know that hooked me right from the start. He’s also very honest in his portrayal, Inside Mari doesn’t gloss over the brooding, angst and pain that goes with coming of age and in peer groups, but displays it honestly. Once again he also shows the inner battle, confusion and occasional elation of his main character with ease.

Inside Mari is a journey into the psyche of sexuality, growing, and coming to terms with oneself and others. Family issues, interrelationship politics, and periods are just some of the difficulties that Isao has to face on his chaffing journey – inside Mari.

 

Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel AlitaGunnm, or as its better known, Battle Angel Alita, is a gritty cyberpunk classic, exploring themes well-known to the genre while taking some to new heights.

Manga Title: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Mangaka: Yukito Kishiro
Genres: Cyberpunk, science-fiction, action
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Completed (9 volumes in the first series and 19 in the second)

The Storyboard:
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Ido Daisuke is an inhabitant on the surface of Earth, living in a city called the Scrapyard – an area used to dump waste products by the dwellers of the mysterious Tiphares, a floating city that towers above.

battle angel alita

Tiphares

People living on the surface have to scrape a living together somehow, and most of them have cybernetically altered bodies to cope with the harsh life. Ido is a cyberphysician, but also hunts cyborg criminals for their bounties to make a living. One day he comes across the dismembered head and midriff of a young cyborg girl who’s been discarded in the scrapyard for unknown reasons.

battle angel alita

Alita’s head

Ido takes her home and begins the process of rebuilding her, using parts that he purchases with money from his bounties. Naming her Alita, Ido gradually assembles her robotic body – her brain still being intact – and she has regains full consciousness, except that she has no recollection of her former life. She decides she wants to aid Ido in his bounty hunting work.

battle angel alita

Alita’s 2nd body

The work is extremely dangerous, with Ido encountering powerful cyborgs such as Makaku, a deadly being with the bizarre habit of eating brains that acts as a kind of painkiller for him.

battle angel alita

Makaku

Despite Ido’s admonishments, Alita joins him, encountering other bizarre denizens of the city along the way. During her interactions with them we find that while her body is almost completely robot, her heart and feelings are still very much those of a young girl.

The city of Tiphares looms overhead constantly, a source of great desire and dreams, as well as persistent mystery. Especially in Alita’s case, she was found in junkyard of materials from Tiphares, hinting at an unknown history she may have and a link to the enigmatic place.

Pencil Sketch:
Ido acts as Alita’s guardian, essentially a father figure for her, and considers her to be his main source of happiness. He dotes on her a lot and initially tries to keep her from the bounty hunting business, wanting her to stay the ‘angel’ that he envisions her to be.

Ido Daisuke

Ido Daisuke

Alita however has her own opinions about what she wants to do. Although grateful and protective of Ido, she also is very opinionated and forges her own path, meeting other individuals and forming friendships along the way.

For Alita, she has no memory of her former life, and is essentially bodiless, making her constantly question who she is. Ironically she’s able to get flashes of memory when she’s engaged in combat, making her want to train herself even harder to discover her identity. Her growth is well developed, starting from her initial naivety about the world, to a much greater understanding of its harshness and grim truths. Despite this she remains cheerful, showing us her youthful, feminine side whilst being a badass cyborg killer. The name ‘Battle Angel’ couldn’t be more apt to describe her.

She reveals herself to be compassionate, considerate and even falls in love with another boy character, Hugo, who appears in the second volume. One thing she seems unable to shake though, is the cruel life thrust upon her and all the dwellers on the surface, who continually live in the shadow of the city Tiphares.

In the first two volumes, minor side characters appear, notably Hugo. He grew up on the surface and had painful family experiences. He eventually resorts to a life of crime in order to obtain money and earn his way into Tiphares. He becomes a romantic interest for Alita, who loves his dreamy visions of escaping the junk-filled life they have and starting a new one on the city above.

battle angel alita

Alita and Hugo

Inking:
Among the more prominent titles of cyberpunk I’ve comes across in manga (like Ghost in the Shell and Blame!) Gunnm’s characters stand out as having more color and emotion. Even the cyborgs encountered by Alita in her battles are mean characters, with foul attitudes to boot.

The style of Gunnm is pretty much hard sci-fi in many ways; most of the gadgets presented in the manga get specific footnotes explaining their operation. Despite not being as dark as the above mentioned titles Gunnm is brutal and has its share of gore. Even though it was first published in 1990, there is such attention to detail that Gunnm looks cool even by today’s standards.

battle angel alita

Alita in action

I’d easily call Gunnm a cyberpunk epic, with mind-blowing art, innovative ideas for the time it was created, a varied cast of cyborg and human characters and not to mention the intriguing question of Alita’s origins and how she’ll trace her way to finding her true self.

Doodles:
Battle Angel Alita is one of the first real anime titles I saw. Back when the distributor Manga Entertainment was still producing titles a friend bought copies of Alita, Akira and Vampire Hunter D, which I loved on first watch. It’s great to return to this series that was one of the first that started me down the road into anime/manga land!

There Can Be Only One – Future Diary

Mirai Nikki

Future Diary is a gem among survival game titles I’ve encountered, keeping up a thick tension all the way and with a host of atypical characters.

Manga Title: Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
Mangaka: Sakae Esuno
Genres: Action, psychological thriller, supernatural
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
14 year old Yukiteru (Yuki) Amano has a hobby that at first seems rather ordinary – keeping a diary on his cellphone – but turns out to be something extraordinary. Introverted and anti-social, Yuki spends his free time at school keeping his diary and comes home to enter an imaginary world he thinks is of his own making, ruled by a god named Deus Ex Machina.

deus

Deus Ex Machina

One day Deus announces that Yuki will be taking part in a game to select the next god – a survival game – but the catch is that the game involves cell phones. Yuki’s cell phone (referred to as a diary) is now equipped with a certain special function – being able to predict with accuracy what will occur around him in the future, which appears as text on his phone’s screen. His diary doesn’t give any hints as to his own future though, thus it’s called the Random Diary.

Mirai Nikki

Yuki and the Random Diary

Initially shocked by the cell’s accuracy in prediction, Yuki attempts to continue with his daily school life, meeting another diary holder in the process – Yuno Gasai. Yuno is Yuki’s classmate, however Yuki knows little about her other than she’s beautiful and got great grades.

Mirai Nikki

Yuno Gasai

Shortly after announcing that she knows about Yuki’s diary, she shows him her own, which she refers to as the Yukiteru Diary. Her diary displays all of Yuki’s actions over a ten-minute course of time. Yuno is at first forceful, then very affectionate towards Yuki, saying she has a strong desire to protect him in this deadly survival game. Terrified, Yuki barely has time to think before discovering that they too are being pursued by a tall, masked man who’s out to kill them.

Mirai Nikki

The Third

The man is also a diary holder, the first of many Yuno and Yuki will encounter throughout the series. Yuki discovers there are nine in total, and that each of them is trying to kill off the other diary holders. Quite simply, if the other holder’s diary is destroyed they die at the same time, and Deus will proclaim the last survivor to be the new god.

The three assailants Yuki comes across in the first volume all have their own unique diaries too. They all just refer to each other by their numerical orders – Yuki being the first, Yuno the second. The third diary holder has a Murder Diary which can see the methods he uses to catch and kill his targets. Later on Yuki also encounters the ninth and the fourth as well.

While Yuki fights with his paranoia about Yuno, his fear of the other dairy holders and of dying in the fatal game, Yuno puts her life on the line to protect him again and again. She shows a disregard for her own safety and an addictive, protective love for Yuki verging on being psychotic.

The stakes are high and the clock is ticking; with enemies all around and unsure of who to trust, Yuki enters the survival game of the diary holders where the only person he can actually call an ally seems to be crazy herself.

Mirai Nikki

The diary users

Pencil Sketch:
Mirai Nikki is unusual for turning around common hero/ heroine tropes. The ‘hero’ Yuki is anything but – he gives up quickly, whimpers a lot and lets Yuno fight most of his battles for him. Even though he’s aware of his own pitifulness, he still feels like he’s in a corner. In a sense he’s relatable, it’s far easier to assume that you’ll act bravely and protect everyone under difficult circumstances, but a more likely truth is most people would be scared and start panicking.

Mirai Nikki

Common expressions for Yuki

To his credit, Yuki does try to break through his fears again and again, though mostly when he’s pushed into near death situations.

I noticed a slight difference between the manga and the anime in that the manga has some inner monologue from Yuno’s perspective.  This has the effect of making Yuno seem less sinister than she did in the anime. She’s really proactive, taking the reins to fight back against the other diary holders when Yuki goes weak at the knees. Aware of all his actions; Yuno stalks him, keeping a close watch over him and displaying an inexplicable love for him that remains one of the mysteries of the series to be explained later.

Yuno’s personality has been classified as ‘yandere’ in anime/manga jargon, the best suitable words I can find to describe her myself is ‘sadistically clingy’. The enigma of Yuno is a special one as her endearing qualities are almost on a par with her insane ones – thus creating a sort of ‘dark heroine’ quality about her that has endeared her to a lot of fans. Check out most image posts on Mirai Nikki and for sure you won’t be seeing Yuki.

Mirai Nikki

A yandere in love

Other diary holders are introduced in the first volume and of course more later on, but one thing is for sure – not one is ordinary and almost all have the intention of being god themselves.

The mascot of Mirai Nikki, Muru Muru, doesn’t appear a lot in the first volume but I wanted to mention her as well. She Deus’s servant, initially playing the role of an indifferent observer, however she takes a far more active role later on in the story. She provides a bit of comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious title.

Mirai Nikki

Muru Muru brings a bit of humor

Inking:
Quite a few titles involving cell phones used in survival games came out before and after Mirai Nikki, but among them I’d have to say it’s one of the best. The pacing is excellently done, setting up a tense, fast feeling that doesn’t stop each chapter.

Mirai Nikki’s characters all display manic emotions, from extreme anger and fear to literally psychotic meltdowns – all drawn amazingly by Sakae Esuno. Though not being particularly endearing, the characters are extremely interesting and convention challenging. Topped off with a creative spin on the powers of cell phones and the mysterious game set up by Deus ex Machina – Mirai Nikki is undeniably a gripping, inventive page turner.

If I have any beef at all about the manga it would be a few holes in the logic of cell phones’ usage, but as usual with such titles, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. The important thing is that I didn’t feel the amount required was significant enough to detract from the enjoyment of the series.

Doodles:
I decided to pick up the manga after reading Albert Nakano’s post on the anime (check out his article on it here (https://plus.google.com/117819984822914128077/posts/J7PKBDhqheb). I saw the anime when it aired between 2011- 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed it; revisiting the manga now is no less enjoyable than when I watched it.

Honey and Clover

Hachimitsu (2)While a lot of manga titles are set in high school, Honey and Clover takes a look at college/university life and the growth its characters experience there.

Manga Title: Hachimitsu to Clover (Honey and Clover)
Mangaka: Chica Umino
Genres: Comedy-drama, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Josei

The Storyboard:
Yuta Takemoto is an architectural student at a university in Tokyo, living in the same apartment complex as two of his fellow students and friends: Takumi Mayama and Shinobu Morita. Each of them are happily going about their student lives when they are introduced to a freshman girl called Hagumi Hanamoto (Hagu) who is related to their art professor Shuji Hanamoto.

Yuta and Shinobu fall in love with her at first sight. Shinobu is infatuated by her cute appearance, constantly taking photos of her and even creating a webpage of his pictures. His approach doesn’t endear him much to Hagu, who reacts to him mostly with aversion.

Yuta on the other hand befriends her, initially unaware of his own love for her. He gradually gains her trust and discovers that she has a sweet, childish temperament.
As the two are friendly with Shuji, Hagu slowly starts to draw closer to them through their interactions, although romance seems to be the last thing on her mind.

Honey and Clover

Yuta, Hagu and Shinobu

Later another member of their group is introduced, the so called ‘Iron Lady’ Ayumi Yamada, who warms to Hagu quickly. Ayumi is physically very strong, hence her title, and is in love with Takumi. The love is unrequited however, because Takumi has feelings for another woman despite caring a lot for Ayumi.

Honey and Clover focuses on the interactions between these five characters (and their professor) as they grow closer, sharing the experiences of their lives all the way.

Honey and Clover

Takumi and Ayumi

Pencil Sketch:
Honey and Clover has a character driven plot, going from the group’s minglings with one another to their own backgrounds. The main lead is Yuta, a meticulous, unassuming young man who’s more sensitive to other people than the rest of the characters. He often doesn’t say what he really feels, which is especially how he is towards Hagu. That being the case he still has an admirable ability to find the good qualities in those he meets, making him a likeable protagonist.

Next is Takumi, a fourth year art student; brooding and somewhat self-absorbed, Takumi nonetheless is always there for his friends, joining in their get togethers and romps enthusiastically. Takumi’s love life is complicated by his affection for another woman, Rika, whilst knowing that Ayumi loves him. Even though he cares for Ayumi, he’s doesn’t return her love and tells her to forget about him.

Ayumi is usually self-assured and fiery tempered, often depicted giving Taekwondo kicks to anyone that pisses her off. She loves attention and compliments, soaking it up whenever someone says a good word about her. She states her affections for Takumi early on, and though rejected by him continues trying to win his heart, despite his not returning her feelings.

Of the group Shinobu is by far the most carefree and derpy. From the onset we see him sleeping late and missing classes, doing odd jobs and returning days later, and making genius pieces of art effortlessly. He’s a seventh year student, having been held back for tardiness in his projects. His love for Hagu begins immediately in a bizarre way; he seems to view her more as a doll than a person. Due to this she avoids him, but through the party’s activities they spend more time together.

Honey and Clover

Shinobu’s buff self-sculpture

Although she’s eighteen, Hagu has a temperament similar to a small girl’s. Also an art prodigy, she’s shown to ‘absorb’ the things she wants to paint and then reproduces them later on canvas, creating beautiful sculptures too. Having been almost brought up by Professor Hanamoto, they have a close relationship, staying with each other all the time. Hagu seems oblivious to both Shinobu and Yuta’s advances – happily getting along with both of them whilst the two men’s love for her deepens.

Honey and Clover

Hagu’s masterpiece

Lastly is Professor Hanamoto, at once a helpful guardian and friend to the group, he’s very devoted and protective over Hagu – ready to jump on the guys if they try anything. Hanamoto’s past is also connected to the love triangle between Ayumi, Makumi and Rika, a connection that unfolds as the story progresses.

Inking:
Honey and Clover doesn’t attempt to express any profound messages or philosophy. It details the lives of friends on their journey through university and life. The difficulties they face, happiness they share, love that grows and bitterness they go through all blend into a sweet, touching story.

What I liked most about Honey and Clover are the moments of comedy scattered throughout and poignant reflections on life that come in controlled bursts. The humor is often generic, dealing with tropes frequently encountered in manga – but every now and then there are some genuinely comic moments. Due to this the poignant parts seem all the more deep and heart-tugging, being placed amidst the humor they seem to stand out even more.

Honey and Clover won’t make you sob, though tears may escape from your eyes – it won’t make you roll on the floor laughing, though it may make you let out a real, hearty chuckle. Genuine and visceral, I found myself smiling and feeling warm inside after putting it down.

Dreams and Reality – Bakuman

BakumanThere’s a huge amount of manga out there but once in a while one comes along that changes you. For me that manga is Bakuman.

Manga Title: Bakuman
Author/artist: Tsugumi Ohba/ Takeshi Obata
Genres: Slice-of-life, comedy/drama, romance
Demographic: Shounen

I was beginning to get into reading more manga when I came across Bakuman in a nearby bookstore. I started to read it and I just couldn’t stop turning the pages – my hands and heart had been set on fire by Tsugumi Ohba’s writing and Takeshi Obata’s art (the duo also behind Death Note).

Storyboard:
The main characters Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi, who are classmates, decide to form an artist/ writer duo after Takagi sees some of Mashiro’s art in a scrapbook that he leaves behind in class. The scrapbook also has Mashiro’s drawings of his crush Miho inside it and at first he’s worried Takagi plans to show it to her.

Bakuman

A bit of self-referencing

Mashiro is hesitant at first; although a lover of manga, his uncle was a mangaka (manga artist and usually author too) who “worked himself to death”, therefore Mashiro initially ignores Takagi. Eventually Takagi convinces him in a dramatic way.

Bakuman

Mashiro and Takagi

They visit the house of Mashiro’s childhood sweetheart, Miho Azuki, who dreams of becoming a seiyu (voice actress) one day. Takagi declares that they are collaborating on a manga; caught up in the moment, Mashiro asks Miho to marry him once their manga is adapted into an anime and she is the seiyu for it.

Bakuman

Sharing a dream

Miho accepts, revealing her feelings for Mashiro, which she has held for him since elementary school. And so begins an intense and energetic journey into the world of the manga industry and into the heart of realizing dreams.

The pair starts from scratch, with Takagi writing and drawing rough sketches for Mashiro while he works on visualizing and drawing the art. They make their first submission to the famous Shueisha and meet with their future editor who sees their talent and encourages them to publish it in a one-shot for Weekly Shounen Jump. Their and Miho’s mutual friend Kaya Miyoshi helps them think up a pen name that combines their names and Miho’s…Ashirogi Muto. They work excruciatingly hard to attain serialization in Shonen Jump and eventually succeed with their first series, interacting with many manga artists along the way.

Bakuman

Rushing headlong…

Pencil Sketch:
Mashiro and Takagi share a similar enthusiasm and raw energy often seen in shounen protagonists. They both have a ‘genius is 99% perspiration’ mentality that’s extremely catching. Mashiro is a straightforward, down-to-earth type of young man who is ruthlessly earnest whether in drawing or romance. Though initially reluctant to do manga, after making his promise with Miho he goes into it full of gusto – and is even quite willing to learn from his fellow manga artists – who share a healthy competitive spirit.

Being conservative and traditional in many ways, Mashiro has a bashful approach to his relationship with Miho – even the slightest communication can have him blushing and feeling over the moon. Bakuman focuses mainly on Mashiro out of the Ashirogi Muto trio as he attempts to break through the unspoken curse left by his uncle and carve a path towards his dreams, while at the same time maintaining his artistic and personal integrity.

Takagi is far more of tactical and rational than Mashiro. Although as much of a fighting dreamer as him, Takagi is pretty methodical in his approach to writing manga and acts to balance out Mashiro’s fiery enthusiasm with logic, even though he’s often carried along with it anyway. He’s the script writer and does most of the original concepts for their manga pieces, which are often praised for their innovative and dark undertones. Despite their differences, Takagi shares the same passion as Mashiro and the two build a deep understanding and bond of friendship over time.

If anything the character that receives too little attention in Bakuman is Miho. Due to her and Mashiro’s decision to not be together until they fulfill their ambitions they’re separate most of the time, the focus being mostly on Mashiro and Takagi. Occasional peeks into Miho’s life and her progress along the path of a seiyu reveal her to be just as driven as the boys. She works hard at auditions for voice acting parts, gradually working her way up in the world of voice actresses.

Traditional and shy to a fault, Miho strictly adheres not only to her agreement with Mashiro, but is also truly devoted to him . The pure love between the couple is not without its difficulties, and the two of them both suffer from the loneliness and uncertainty that comes with their type of relationship.

Takagi’s love interest – Kaya Miyoshi is optimistic with a fiery temper. She often brings Takagi back to reality and teaches him some basic wisdom. Miho’s best friend and a constant companion to Takagi and Mashiro, Kaya lends positive support to the mangaka pair and is there to celebrate their joys with them and go through the difficulties too.

Bakuman

Miho and Kaya

A large supporting cast of fellow manga artists fills the panels of Bakuman. Notable among them is the eccentric Nizuma Eiji, also a winner of the Tezuka prize for manga when he was only 15. He becomes a long standing rival and thus a motivating force for our pair. Mangaka of the famous Crow series already being published, Eiji is considered a prodigy not only in his art, but in his unique way of creating drafts for his titles.

Other fellow artists include Shinta Fukuda, mangaka of a motorcycle manga Kiyoshi Knight, Ko Aoki, a young woman penning the fantasy title Hideout Door, a unique but lazy genius Kazuya Hiramaru – who draws a title called Otters 11, and the recluse Ryu Shizuka – drawing the manga True Human. Many other talented manga artists present themselves as the story progresses.

Bakuman characters 2 (2)

Nizuma Eiji, Shinta Fukuda, Ko Aoki and Kazuya Hiramaru

Inking:
The thing that hooked me about this series is its vigor. The raw power, enthusiasm and unstoppable determination that Ashirogi Muto show throughout each chapter as they hurtle headlong towards their dreams is really something to read. They start pursuing their aspirations whilst still in junior high, so there are priceless moments in their high school where they talk about manga in the sick room, dream up stories and art during lessons and still go home to work all night to meet the deadlines for their submissions.

Another energetic element of the story is the strong rivalry and close camaraderie shared by the manga artists. They constantly try to outdo each other, whilst secretly rooting for one another, and being able to pick up the strong points of their adversaries. To add to the story’s charm is the fairytale like love between Mashiro and Miho, who don’t meet and only occasionally send brief emails of encouragement to one another until their dreams are fulfilled. The deep seated love they have, but complete stubbornness of not seeing each other is as heart rending as it is sweet.

Bakuman

Shy couple

Lastly, a fascinating aspect for me was learning of how the manga world works and watching the process of creation that Ashirogi Muto go through. Starting from the basics of rough sketches, to submissions and reviews by the board at Shueisha, they climb the ladder to serialization and once they reach it, they have to maintain their integrity and the quality of their stories throughout in an industry where it’s so easy to just start churning out uninspired and repetitious work in order to keep the cash coming in.

Ultimately Bakuman made me feel that it really is possible – if you have the dreams and vision, stick to your principles and never sell yourself out – dreams really do come true. The old cliché that we’ve all heard thousands of times before turns out to be a solid reality. After only reading halfway through the manga I was inspired to pick up my pen (or keyboard) and start writing again after not doing so for years. The power of this story is it can make you start saying ridiculous things like, “I’m gonna become a mangaka!” And…why not?

Doodles:
For another great article on Bakuman check out Manga Turtle here!

Warm Things – Natsume’s Book of Friends

Natsume Yuujinchou

“We all like hearts that seek something dear – and burn with life.”

Manga Title: Natsume Yuujinchou
Mangaka: Yuki Midorikawa
Genres: Drama, Supernatural
Demographic: Shojo

Storyboard:
Natsume Takashi is a teenager who can see ghosts. His grandmother could also see ghosts and was notorious for beating them in competitions and making them subject to her will. After defeating any ghost, she’d write its name in her ‘Book of Friends’ so that she could call on them to do her bidding. If a ghost from the book was called, it would immediately have to do what Natsume’s grandma, Reiko, wished.

After Reiko passed away, Natsume inherited the book. Not knowing what it was for, the book remained unopened for many years.

Natsume goes through a semblance of a normal life with his caregivers, trying to avoid giving his unique abilities away. One day he’s chased by a ghost and runs across another spirit who’s trapped inside a shrine. Accidentally freeing the spirit, which is shaped like a maneki neko (lucky cat), it informs him that the ghosts are chasing him as they hate Reiko and want to get their hands on the Book of Friends.

It turns out that the cat, called Madara at first (later to be named Nyanko-sensei by Natsume), also wants the book, but to use it for his own ends. Natsume strikes a deal with him, agreeing that he’ll give Madara custody of the book should anything happen to him – on condition that Nyanko-sensei helps him with his dilemma.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Natsume and Nyanko-sensei

Nyanko-sensei explains that many of the spirits wish to be released from their binding in the book and shows Natsume how to return the names to the ghosts. First visualizing them, the Book of Friends will then turn to the appropriate page with the spirit’s name. After that, Natsume needs to place the paper with the name in his mouth and blow out. The spirits are then freed from their binding.

natsume releasing (2)

Natsume releasing a spirit

What follows is the tale of Natsume and Nyanko-sensei as they encounter the numerous spirits that Reiko wrote in her Book, gradually freeing them one by one, whilst drawing other entities to them. Many of the ghosts often aren’t friendly, bearing grudges against Natsume’s grandmother whom he resembles strongly.

In the process of clearing the Book of Friends Natsume comes across a variety of spirits. From small temple gods to the spirit of a passed bird, each is different, bearing their own unique tales.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Natsume’s friends

Pencil Sketch:
The characters in Natsume’s Book of Friends are a varied bunch. Natsume himself is initially a naive student who doesn’t know anything about the spiritual world he’s capable of seeing. After meeting the conniving Madara he starts to have more of an insight into them, and here’s where the magic of Natsume’s Book of Friends lies.

The spirits he meets are very human. Though their appearances have mostly gone beyond normal, they all still have hearts and needs that Natsume sympathizes with, and as we come to discover, his late grandma did too. When freeing some spirits, Natsume gets a peek into their existences when they were alive and sees that each soul had a poignant story to tell. He begins to like the spirits and to see their similarities to living people, in the same way Reiko did.

Nyanko-sensei acts as Natsume’s character foil. Constantly reminding Natsume that he wants his book only, he appears to be happily waiting for Natsume to meet his demise. Nyanko-sensei inadvertently helps Natsume a lot to deal with the spirits he meets, suggesting that a friendship between the two is blooming unbeknownst to them.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Nyanko-sensei’s true form

Towards the end of volume one Natsume encounters a boy, Kaname, who is also able to sense the presence of ghosts and will perhaps find a companion in him.

Inking:
Natsume’s Book of Friends is a heartwarming tale that deals with a concept we’re all too familiar with – however ends up quite different. His journey of discovery about the realm just beyond our vision is touching and thought-provoking. Who would have thought that the ‘friends’ Natsume always sought, would be those who are not of this world?

Doodles:
In the tradition of GeGeGe no Kitaro, the manga pictures spirits in forms that are a mix between comical and spine-chilling. Whether you’re used to eastern ghost stories or not, Natsume Yuujinchou is a refreshing take on this familiar genre.