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

A Silent Voice

A Silent VoiceA Silent Voice speaks loudly about its themes and the struggles of its characters.

Manga Title: A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi)
Mangaka: Yoshitoki Oima
Genres: Drama, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard (some spoilers):
Shouya Ishida leaps from a bridge into the polluted water below, slams into concrete walls and jumps from high places to the ground with his other elementary school friends, all in an attempt the defeat the enemy he hates the most – boredom. Ishida’s friends stick with him despite the fact that they know they’ll eventually have to give it up – going along with their boredom-fearing buddy.

A Silent Voice

Ishida and friends

An unexpected event occurs one day that’ll change Ishida’s life forever; a transfer student comes to their school. The girl who transfers in, Shouko Nishimiya, has a hearing impediment. All his classmates, including Ishida himself, find it hard to comprehend the reality of this situation. Shouko can’t hear them properly and also speaks unclearly, surprising all the students as well as giving Ishida a sudden realization – the cure for his boredom has arrived.

A Silent Voice

Shouko Nishimiya

Starting one day, Ishida begins making fun of Shouko. First, shouting loudly behind her for all the class to see, he goes on to perform numerous actions that amount to outright bullying. All the while, their homeroom teacher takes an unwilling-to-get-involved stance, half-heartedly reprimanding Ishida for his actions. Other classmates join in too, finding fun in imitating Ishida’s actions at the expense of Shouko.

A Silent VoiceAll throughout the bullying, Shouko, while going through turmoil internally, never gets outright angry with Ishida – quite the opposite, she attempts to reach out to him on a few occasions and is continuously apologetic towards her classmates.

A Silent Voice

Reaching out

Everything eventually comes to a head after Ishida has broken many of Shouko‘s hearing aids. Her mother finally complains to the school and Ishida is singled out by the class for bullying. Despite the rest of the class’s involvement and his teacher’s negligence in dealing with the issue, Ishida is given the whole blame. On top of that, he becomes the target for abuse next, with Shouko eventually transferring out once again.

Ishida goes through a grueling time being on the other end of the stick – being the one bullied by his best friends for all his past actions. The bullying continues throughout the rest of his elementary school life and follows him to junior high, where the rumors persist and people ignore or gossip about him.

He decides to keep a low profile and not interact with others too much, literally marking everyone off as hopeless and himself as well.
Finally he comes to the conclusion that he’s going to end his life, after finding Shouko once more and apologizing to her. Little does he know that his meeting with Shouko will once again push his life in a different direction – one that he could never have imagined years before.

A Silent Voice

Meeting…

Pencil Sketch:
Ishida seems like a typical elementary student at first, constantly looking for fun and playing pranks with his friends. In part, his reasons for targeting Shouko for bullying were this very playful nature, and his attempts to escape boredom. At first he seems like the villain, the bully and someone you’d like to see get punished. For anyone who’s been the victim of bullying, Ishida would be an object of hate.

Essentially his character is purely that of a curious young boy who wasn’t specifically malicious, only trying to cure his boredom in a very incorrect manner. It’s arguable that the best thing that could have happened to him was being found out and Shouko’s transferring that made him become the object of everyone else’s scorn.

The tables are turned on him, and he can clearly see how Shouko must have felt in the same situation, and even comes to realize that when the bullying against him started, Shouko constantly attempted to reach out to him.

Ishida’s change of heart and understanding of his own errors is a rare one, something that perhaps people who’ve committed similar actions in their lives may never become aware of. This lends a deep respect for me towards his character, being able to accomplish something unique like that is no small feat, though admittedly it was only after a significant amount of hardship.

Shouko on the other hand, possibly having come from similar situations in the past, puts a brave face on as she faces the ridicule, impatience and eventual cruelty of her classmates. She always smiles, whatever comes her way, and has a gentle, compassionate personality. Though this may seem unrealistic, and arguably the situation she finds herself in would drive most people to rage or possibly depression, Shouko reveals how she deals with it in another way.

She blames herself for putting others out and troubling them. This guilt complex might have arisen from her condition, and partly because of her mother’s attitude and methods of dealing with Shouko’s problems.

Not much has been revealed about her mother’s background at the point I’m up to in the manga, except that she’s single and considers her daughter’s disability a burden that has brought her misery and anger. When Shouko eventually transfers her mother thinks it only natural, rather than dealing with the problem hands on.

Additionally, she’s harsh in her treatment of Shouko, also showing her own negligence in that she doesn’t even know how to sign in order to communicate properly with her daughter. Of course, raising a child with a disability would have inherent obstacles, however its plain to see that Shouko’s mother isn’t dealing with it in a way that’s helpful for her own emotional stability or Shouko’s.

Inking:
The art in A Silent Voice stands out in clarity with captivating character designs and detailed backgrounds. At first glance it may seem that the title is being preachy, trying to earn sympathy from its readers, but I’ve never found that.

A Silent Voice is a heart tugging, gentle and often humorous tale that goes into the sincere heart of remorse and how it can change not only one person, but their entire life. Ishida’s cruelty and vile behavior gets turned upon him, nearly crushing him. Yet through his remorse, he finds some light in his life – in the silent voice of the heart that Shouko speaks to him with.

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.

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!

Justice will, without fail, prevail – Death Note

Death NoteRather than being a ‘Whodunit’ murder mystery, Death Note immediately throws you into an intense psychological hotbox. The opponents facing each other in this hotbox are two characters who both believe that they represent the very definition of righteousness itself.

Manga Title: Death Note
Author/Artist: Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata
Genres: Psychological thriller, detective fiction, supernatural
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
Raito ‘Light’ Yagami, an honors student ranked highly in Japan and son of a detective, comes across a notebook that’s been seemingly dropped by someone outside his senior high school. Opening the book, he’s surprised to find this disturbing paragraphon the book’s first page:Death NoteAt first thinking the notebook is nothing more than a prank, he takes it home and reads the following paragraphs, which describe the details of how the selected person’s death can be manipulated by writing them in the Death Note too. Still not thoroughly convinced Raito gives it a try, experimenting first on a felon, and next on a random biker who’s harassing a girl he comes across in the street. After the biker really does die in the street from an apparent ‘accident’ – Raito’s doubts about the notebook are completely cleared.

Death Note

Validating the notebook gives rise to schemes within Raito’s mind, plans about how he can go about rectifying what he considers to be an evil world and become a god in the process. Raito begins his purge by writing down the names of one hundred dangerous lawbreakers, many of whom are incarcerated, believing himself to be untraceable due to the mysterious method the victims suddenly die from if not otherwise specified: a heart attack.

Death NoteShortly after, the true owner of the notebook, a shinigami (a god of death or a reaper) known as Ryuuku approaches him, telling him the book now belongs to Raito, and elaborating more on some of the rules regarding the Death Note. Ryuuku is invisible to everyone except the owner of the Death Note and those who touch its pages. He adopts a neutral status about Raito and his mission, claiming he was bored with the life of a shinigami and hopes that this unique human is going to make it interesting for him.

Death Note

Ryuuku the shinigami

In the meantime, Raito’s initial carelessness is actually what gives L, a famous private detective whose true name and identity are unknown, a major clue as to Raito’s whereabouts and methods of killing.

death note

L is on the case

L is contracted by international officials to investigate the bizarre sudden deaths of the hundred convicts. L’s sense of justice is the converse of Raito’s – he believes in following the law to the letter and any murder, regardless of who is killed – is still a murder. Tracing an invisible thread in the mass of killings, L filters them down to Raito’s location in Japan. Through a clever television broadcast, L also ascertains more about Raito and is able to pinpoint his rough location within Japan.

Instead of running from the threat, the now zealous Raito decides to use L’s closing in on him as a chance to annihilate his opponent. A battle of wits between the two geniuses begins, a battle in which the hunter and the hunted becomes unclear. One thing is certain however, neither Raito nor L will give in until they see that their ‘justice’ is done!

Pencil Sketch:
The story mainly follows the perspective of Raito Yagami, thus you’re enveloped early on in his mentality. Raito holds that everyone believes in justice yet no one’s willing to take the law into their own hands, therefore he sees coming across the Death Note as an opportunity to help the world. The main flaw in this plan is Raito himself; he not only wants to mete out justice, but also hopes to be revered as a god for it, which immediately highlights his delusional thinking.

You could say that Raito is questionably conscientious – he feels pangs of conscience on initially using the Death Note however he soon covers this feeling up with his grand designs to cleanse the world. His ideology/delusions and ego overrule his compassion and he follows the path of his own convictions regardless. What’s more, when L issues his challenge over a television broadcast for Raito (who is dubbed ‘Kira’- a play on the English word killer) he takes a sort of relish in the idea of a cat and mouse game with L, confident that he’ll win.

While Raito doesn’t show a scrap of sympathy for those he kills, he seems to be genuinely caring towards his sister and father – relationships that later may end up being a liability for him in his role of Kira.

Ironically L is not so different from Raito. Both possess a strong sense of justice and are ingenious, meticulous men who show little emotion. L has the habit of sitting cross-legged and even meditating when pondering the Kira case. He shrewdly smokes Raito out in the first volume and using his international contacts, including the F.B.I., draws closer and closer to Raito’s position.

Ryuuku, the shinigami whose Death Note Raito lays his hands on is arguable the truly ‘evil’ character in the story. Whilst doing hardly anything other than observing and explaining to Raito the Death Note’s rules, he openly states that he finds humans interesting due to their struggles and attempts to change things. He keeps a number of facts back from Raito to increase the enjoyment of the murder game he’s watching unfold – all to ease the boredom of his eternal existence.

death note

Chilling with a shinigami

A range of other characters are introduced later, but I’m only going into the first volume here, so I won’t touch on them. Needless to say, the characters introduced later are every bit as fascinating and colorful as our three main ones so far.

Inking:
The entire concept of a Death Note brings with it an immediate sense of suspense and of delving into the forbidden. Just like opening a grimoire or esoteric spell book, starting to read Death Note is the same as diving into that taboo world. Right off the bat, the tension begins – a tactic masterfully done by Tsugumi Ohba, drawing you into the psyche of Kira and the paranormal killings which he performs. The manga hits on a deeper level when you find yourself understanding both Raito’s motivations and L’s too, growing closer to both of them.

Takeshi Obata’s art, as any who are familiar with his works knows, flourishes on each page – strongly bringing out the atmosphere and emotions of the characters. The story doesn’t let up for one second, and I was biting my nails along with L, pondering what his next move and Raito’s would be, unable to stop poring over the pages of what I can honestly call a modern classic.

Doodles:
I’d heard of the infamous Death Note through the grapevine before I actually read it. At the time I was reading Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Bakuman, and met someone who recommended I read the manga. One of the things the person who recommended it to me said was, “It’s a psychological experience; it gets deeply into your mind.” I honestly couldn’t agree more.

death note

 

The Homeless God – Noragami

noragamiDue to the popular anime series Noragami needs no introduction, and whether you’re wanting to try the manga fresh or after having watched the anime, you won’t be disappointed.

Manga Title: Noragami
Mangaka: Adachi Toka
Genres: Supernatural, adventure, romance
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
The first thought that comes to my mind when thinking of Japanese gods is a temple, however that’s the one thing that our homeless god Yato lacks. Calling himself a delivery god (he’s definitely faster than any earthly deliveryman), Yato has dreams of making it big in the god industry by raking in a horde of followers and erecting a massive temple.

noragami

Yato

To accomplish this he scrawls his number all over the place – even toilet walls – in the hopes of landing a case. His messages go unseen by most people except those in dire need or those with spiritual sight. He accepts jobs of all descriptions, from fixing faucets to solving complications with spirits, all for the price of five yen (a common amount given when praying at shrines in Japan).

One day he and his helper, a woman going by the name Tomone, are called by a suicidal girl who needs their help, having been bullied and mistreated by her classmates. Yato points out that the girl’s problems, compounded with the general bad atmosphere created by the tension of taking exams, have summoned what he refers to as the Ayakashi (phantoms).

noragami

Ayakashi

The Ayakashi are creatures from the other side that roam the spiritual realm and are still able to have an affect on humans. They are attracted to living beings emitting a similar dark energy, referred to as ‘gloom’, and can influence them. In some cases this can cause the affected people to behave strangely or even lead to their death.

Yato decides to take care of the Ayakashi with the assistance of Tomone, who turns into his regalia called a ‘shinki’ (a spiritual weapon), on command. Tomone can become a shinki shaped like a dagger and cut through the ghost-like flesh of the Ayakashi. Using Tomone, he slices the phantom up, obliterating it.

noragamiTomone parts with Yato after resolving the girl’s case, refusing to be his shinki anymore. Yato once again wanders about, indulging in delusions of becoming powerful. He takes on another job to rescue a lost cat given to him by a child who is able to see his spiritual graffiti within a phone book. Whilst searching for the creature, Yato comes across a girl who will become an important part of his life – Hiyori Iki.

noragami

Hiyori Iki

Hiyori is a high-school student from a wealthy family; she spots Yato as he carelessly crosses the road pursuing the cat and unwittingly runs in front of a bus. Attempting to save him, Hiyori leaps to push him out the way, only to be hit by the bus herself. Her bravery was hardly necessary as Yato has no real physical form so to speak, however she is injured by the accident and temporarily jolted from her body.

noragami

Soul slipped

Unknown to her she has now become a borderline walker (called a hanyou) – one who can traverse between both sides of life and death, yet is fortunate enough to still have a physical body. Recovering consciousness in a hospital, she thinks it was all a dream until Yato comes to her, telling her what happened. She follows him, and discovers that far from only being able to leave her body, she is even able to tackle Ayakashi in the spiritual realm.

noragami

Jungle savate

Hiyori begs Yato to return her to normal, which he takes as a formal request from her, but he claims he’s unable to start until he gains possession of a new shinki. Thinking to help Yato, Hiyori searches about for a lost soul to become Yato’s shinki. After a dangerous run-in with a malicious Ayakashi, Yato comes across a  recently deceased spirit and decides to turn it into his shinki.

noragami

Yukine

The soul belongs to a teenage boy; Yato names him Yukine and in his regalia form his name is Sekki – a long, beautiful white blade. Yukine seems far from impressed with Yato, showing disdain for him straight away. Like it or not, all three of their fates become intertwined – for better or worse.

Pencil Sketch:
Volume one of the manga is pretty short, only introducing Yato, Hiyori, Yukine and Yato’s previous shinki Tomone. True to the name Noragami, (nora meaning stray and gami – god) Yato is like a stray – homeless and sleeping on the streets or outside other gods’ shrines. His character is refreshingly different from gods in a lot of fantasy stories; although he has delusions of grandeur – dreaming of being doted on by female devotees – he’s down to Earth in dealing with his clients, and is responsible despite being a freeloader.

Hiyori is from a well-to-do family who treasure her (though it seems like they see her as a delicate object). She’s a wrestling fan, idolizing a famous wrestler which  makes her stand apart from her pop-idol loving friends. Immediately she shows herself to be self-sacrificing, bailing Yato out of trouble twice in one chapter (though he technically doesn’t need it). Sometimes naive, she’s bold and quickly adapts to her new, bizarre situation.

Making his appearance at the end of the volume, little is known about Yukine, except for his distaste for Yato and brattish temperament.

Not much is revealed about Tomone either, whose actual name is Mayu, apart from that she dislikes Yato – calling him dirty and useless. This doesn’t stop her from showing concern for Yato though, revealing that she still has a soft spot for him.

Inking:
After watching the anime (which I presume will cover the content of most of the first volumes), I still found myself enjoying the revisit to these characters and their universe. Whilst obviously lacking the atmospheric music and color palette of the anime, the manga makes up for it in extra details and art.

In my opinion the manga stands on its own as a strong story – it has enough originality and appealing characters to make me want to continue reading. Also, viewers of the show will be able to continue the unfinished tale they saw started in the animation.

Doodles:
Yato’s powers are something I found particularly interesting. When he uses a shinki, kanji characters appear, making the name of the particular regalia. I found this part fascinating as it’s a recurring theme in magical and spiritual practices I’ve encountered since living in the east.

Noragami

Mayu transforming into ‘Tomoki’

A lot of talismans made for protection, good luck, exorcism and the like involve the use of characters which hold a power of their own. Even over new year, auspicious words and phrases adorn the walls of homes and public places.

Adachi Toka makes poetic use of the mysticism of Japanese kanji, incorporating it into the characters’ names too. For example Yukine’s name (雪音) combines the characters for ‘snow’ and ‘sound’ – Yato having heard Yukine’s sound and he looked like a snowflake when he first appeared. Additionally Yukine’s name as a regalia is ‘Sekki’ (雪器) which is a combination of the characters ‘snow’ and ‘vessel’ (or weapon in this case) which I thought was a nice touch.

What’s your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you’ve enjoyed?

Gazing into the Abyss – Aku no Hana

aku no hana

“The things we loathed become the things we love.” – Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs Du Mal

Manga Title: Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological thriller, drama, bildungsroman
Demographic: Shounen

Storyboard:
Living in a small town where all the metal seems to be rusting and nothing much ever happens, the teenager Takao Kasuga trudges to  school each day. Kasuga considers himself different from others; being a reader of less known books (to his classmates anyway) such as Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) and not taking much interest in his friends’ mundane activities, he’s in a delusional world of his own – one that is crushed by just one decision.

aku no hana

Sawa Nakamura and Takao Kasuga

Forgetting his copy of  The Flowers of Evil in his desk, Kasuga returns to an empty classroom to get it and spots a bag of worn gym clothes that have been left behind. The bag belongs to Kasuga’s crush, Nanako Saeki, and against his own better judgment he grabs them, pulling them out. Hearing a sound behind him, he quickly conceals the fact that he is holding them and makes a getaway, still hanging onto the gym clothes.

aku no hana

I shouldn’t be doing this

Unknown to him, he was seen with the gym bag by Sawa Nakamura, a girl who sits directly behind him in class. At the start of the volume Nakamura swears at her teacher when he questions her about her low grades, and she’s considered to be strange by her classmates, who avoid her. Later that day she comes across Kasuga when he’s riding his bike and tells him she saw him take the clothes. Already guilt-stricken after running off with a girl’s sportswear, Kasuga falls into a panic at hearing this. Nakamura threatens that if he doesn’t take her on a ride over a nearby hill she’ll rat him out. Kasuga runs away, his mind sinking further into despair.

aku no hana

Falling into despair

The following day the teacher announces that Saeki’s clothes have gone missing, which sparks off instant rumors of a pervert lurking around the school- possibly one of their own classmates. To top it off, Nakamura insists this time that Kasuga form a ‘contract’ with her in return for her silence. They start meeting daily and Nakamura slowly begins to reveal her less than wholesome motivations for threatening Kasuga.

She’s in no way trying to pull off a prank; Nakamura expresses that she feels a deep sadness within her and wants to release it on the world. Calling herself a deviant, she states that she wants to ‘peel Kasuga’s skin off’ and reveal the deviant lurking within him too.

A while after Kasuga comes across Saeki in the hall, and out of the blue he asks her out on a date, which she accepts.

aku no hana

A date with Saeki

Nakamura overhears and decides to use this as an opportunity for Kasuga to reveal his inner self. Caught between the fear of being told on with its subsequent shame, and the consequences of following Nakamura’s directions, Kasuga reluctantly adheres to her wishes. And so the three main characters find themselves entangled in a triangle that involves their deepest inhibitions, fears and desires, whilst all about them – the flowers of evil are blossoming.

aku no hanaPencil Sketch:
Most of the first half of Aku no Hana focuses on the three characters introduced above. Kasuga seems idealistic at first, being somewhat more knowledgeable than his peers; he looks down on them and believes no one in the backwater town he lives could ever understand him. We later find that he’s quite weak-willed, filled with angst and easily coerced by the domineering and often cruel Nakamura.

Nakamura is forceful and controlling, literally pushing Kasuga into difficult situations. She confides in him that she hopes he is a true deviant who will ‘set the town on fire’. Though considering herself to be a deviant, instead of putting her thoughts into action, she by extension wants Kasuga to do it. She finds pleasure in seeing Kasuga doing perverted things, giving her a feeling that there is someone else in the world like her.

She presents herself as being the opposite of Kasuga – who mainly has delusions of grandeur from reading – and is only interested in action, in the release that can be found in expressing her inner turmoil outwardly.

At first it seems that Saeki is the victim of Nakamura and Kasuga’s perverted intentions (though Kasuga is mostly being manipulated a little too easily by Nakamura). Herself a beautiful honors student, talented and showing great promise, it’s obvious that’s she’s being unwillingly groomed by her parents into a role she doesn’t truly want. Her own frustration with this is subtle at first, however it’s revealed more fully as the plot develops.

Inking:
Aku no Hana is a brooding tale about the angst of not just growing up, but of existence itself. Kasuga, Nakamura and Saeki all represent relevant examples of individuals whose bottled-up feelings finally come to the surface, and what happens as a result. The manga isn’t philosophical about these issues either; no in-depth theories are presented to explain the characters’ actions – Aku no Hana merely chronicles them powerfully, and the rest is left up to the reader.

Doodles:
I initially watched Aku no Hana when it was released as a 13 episode anime series and started reading the manga afterwards. Whilst attaining an even darker feel than the manga it’s pretty true to the source material. The anime was directed by Hiroshi Nagahama (director of both seasons of Mushishi) and uses rotoscoping techniques that give it a unique feel.

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?