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Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 1)

Coco is a young girl who lives in a world suffused with magic. She’s not a witch – witches are born, not made, everyone knows – but she wishes she was. She lives with her mom in the tailor shop they run. Upon a visit from a male witch named Qifrey, Coco discovers that magic is drawn, with a pen and ink, instead of spoken aloud as everyone had thought. She decides to try drawing from a book she had been given as a child – and accidentally traps her mother in crystal. Qifrey takes her to his atelier, his magic home, in order to train Coco as a witch’s apprentice and undo the spell.

The fantasy manga I’ve started so far all have a great knack for fascinating world building. The magic system of drawing, while not that new, is refreshing. I can always appreciate stories that show how hard work artistry can be 😉 What’s interesting to me is that a point is made to show that magic is everywhere in this world, but only a few people are shown how to use it… instead of the other way around where only a few people have magic within them in a non-magical world.

The art was cute, but thankfully, not over-the-top cute. It leans toward the cutesy style without being too much. There’s a classical quality to it, somehow. The light is either softly diffused or very dramatic, and a good measure of attention is given to the indoor scenes of kitchens and workshops and their respective tools.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Shirahama, Kamome. Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 1). 2017.

Beyond the Clouds: Vol. 1

Theo is a young mechanic and handyman in Yellow Town it’s so called because the exhaust and steam from the city creates yellow clouds that block out the stars. He stumbles upon a girl named Mia who has fallen from the sky and torn one of her wings off. She can’t remember who she is, and feels alone and scared, so Theo reads to her every night and starts to build her a new wing. Unfortunately they are being followed by bad men who want to sell Mia as a commodity to the highest bidder. She unleashes a terrible power and manages to fight them off, but she falls into a deep sleep with a high fever. Theo, though injured himself, ventures into the Sage Forest for medicine that can help her. Will he succeed?

The art is really what caught my eye here. It’s very loose and sketchy, unlike the other manga I’ve read. The shading is done with loose hatching, and for the most part there isn’t much of it. It looks as if there is a gentle, diffused light throughout the whole book; in part due to the clouds covering the city, in part due to the sweet nature of the story.

This one felt a little too cutesy to me. The figures are very cherubic, with short statures, round faces, and big eyes. The dialogue was overly sweet for my tastes and the obvious romance felt a little cringy to me as an adult. The target audience, middle readers and teens, would likely be more receptive to it.

That said… it’s kind of a sucker punch. The story goes from 0-100 pretty quickly with the fantasy elements. There is potential here for a story with more depth. I may try another volume to see how it goes.

– Kathleen

Nicke. Beyond the Clouds: Vol. 1. 2018.

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror

Happy Halloween! For the last few years I have posted a horror-themed graphic novel on Halloween Day, so this year I choose the classic three-volume manga series Uzumaki.

“Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral — the hypnotic secret shape of the world” is the premise of this eerie series that has definitely earned the acclaim it has been given. 

Kirie and Shuichi begin to notice their family members and townspeople’s strange fascination with spirals. It begins innocently enough, as many spirals are found in nature, with the teen’s fathers being the first to become entranced with the spiral’s power and beauty. Soon obsessed, people begin to experience terrifying body contortions and you will begin to need to have a strong suspension of disbelief as grotesque and unnatural occurrences happen that would have most people leaving the town for good. Kirie and Shuichi remain strong in the midst of turmoil, as they try to leave with their remaining family members when the town is destroyed by hurricanes, and then by the madness of the inhabitants who can’t escape. 

Each volume is divided into chapters, with eighteen chapters in all, and the final chapter The Labyrinth brings the story of Kirie and Shuichi to a close. While chronological, in volumes two and three the chapters begin to resemble short stories, so you can read a chapter at a time that is self-contained. The stories can spiral out of control, but that is part of the appeal in what makes this trilogy stand out.

The artwork is a masterpiece of time and effort by author and illustrator Junji Ito, with intricate black and white panels that show the town’s descent into insanity. The creatures are macabre and Lovecraftian in nature, so even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. The spirals and the body horror found throughout the chapters will stay with you, even after you put the books down. Who knew that a simple spiral could become so treacherous and all-consuming? 

This series is not to be missed, as you too, should join other readers and dive into this whirlpool of terror!

-Nancy

Collage of Uzumaki images from Mother.Dot

 

Magus of the Library: Vol. 3

Theo has passed his written kafna exam! He is now moving on to the oral and practical exams. He meets a few more of his exam-mates: Sala Sei Sohn, a girl very interested in mana; Ohgga, a carefree girl with cat ears; and Natica, who’s determined to be the best of the best. Theo is paired with Ohgga and Natica for the practical portion of the exam. They have to work together on a sample research request that they would get if they were working in the library. The three young people are very different in personality and methodology. Can they work together to beat the clock and pass this final portion of the exam?

The worldbuilding in this manga keeps getting better and better. As we learn more about the world, we learn more about Theo’s heritage. I love this device! It helps to bring the narrative together in a meaningful way.

The main themes in this volume were unity amid diversity and the journey is the destination. I found this very comforting among the world situation at present.

Though I am admittedly not a manga fan, I am really enjoying this one. The worldbuilding is so interesting and it’s stitched together with our hero’s story, to help form a cohesive narrative. The detailed art with different architectural styles continues to fascinate me. As ever, looking forward to more.

– Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 3). 2019.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9)

In this volume, we return to Pariya and Umar’s story. Pariya’s family is finishing rebuilding their house and the family’s business, and so Pariya’s father is starting to move faster on her marriage negotiations. Though her friendship with Kamola and other village girls is slowly sharpening her social skills, Pariya still frequently stumbles over her words, especially when it comes to Umar. An opportunity arises for them to run an errand together to the next town over, but they have trouble on the way back and are forced to stay the night in a stranger’s house. Though the reason is innocent enough, the fact that it happened may very well be enough for their engagement to be called off. Can they keep their stopover a secret from the rest of their village?

This volume also featured short stories about other characters, such as Amir, Sherine and Anis, and the twins Laila and Leyli.

The more this story progresses, the more I appreciate the wide variety of female characters within it. Pariya’s arc is turning into one of the most interesting and satisfying. She is strong, independent, and possesses other masculine qualities about her. But, she’s also very shy and fumbles over her words, sometimes to her detriment as others often mistake her meaning. She is learning to be more open and communicate clearly with who she hopes to be her future spouse – and that’s not an easy thing to do at the best of times. The main thing is, we see her trying and bettering herself in a way that is organic and never feels forced.

Though we do get this vast array of women who are very different, they are all supportive of each other. Amir and Kamola, along with some other village girls, offer to help Pariya with her bridal sewing once it becomes apparent she needs help. That’s amazing! That’s something that the world needs more of!

As ever, looking forward to the next volume.

-Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9). 2017.

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1)

Akiko Higashimura, manga artist best known for her work on Princess Jellyfish, shares the beginnings of her artist’s journey in the first volume of this manga memoir. She starts her story during high school, where we see her big dreams and ambitions of being a shojo (young adult romance) manga artist! … But her not-so-good grades. Still, Akiko loves to draw, thinks herself pretty good at it, and is sure she can get into art school on talent alone. That is, until her friend Futami reminds her that it’ll take more work than that, as Japan’s college applications are very competitive and demanding. She invites Akiko to come to an art class with her, taught by an independent teacher named Hidaka Kenzou. Akiko quickly learns that Hidaka-sensei is VERY demanding, even harsh. Can she put up with him long enough to take her college exams and get into art school?

I found this memoir very refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, it seems I am becoming a bit more open-minded to manga after all =) It’s always touching to see creators publish personal memoirs in the format they are most familiar with; it makes the story feel more immediate and intimate. Though the art is a little more realistic and less in the stylized manga style, visual tropes of manga (angry veins, sweat drops, sparkling backgrounds) are still found.

Second, and maybe most important to me, this manga shows how HARD it is to be an artist! It’s hard work! Akiko shows us this through her schedule with Hidaka, his insistence that they keep a log of the time they spend on each drawing, as well as her own character development. As a teenager, she thought she could coast by on talent, but it takes significant time and effort to hone her craft, which is 100% the case, against many assumptions people have of art and artists. As an artist myself, reading this gave me vivid flashbacks of undergrad: long hours sitting or standing in the same spot in the studio, hauling art supplies and projects up 3-4 flights of stairs, nursing various aches and pains in my dorm afterwards. The result? I’m a much better artist than I was before.

I got the impression that this manga is just as much an ode to Hidaka as it is documenting Akiko’s journey. They have an interesting relationship. Though Hidaka is harsh, he is honest and a realist, which tempers Akiko’s teenage idealism and arrogance. She obviously looks back on him with admiration and fondness. I’m fascinated to see how their journey together unfolds.

-Kathleen

Higashimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1). 2019.

Magus of the Library (Vol. 2)

Now that Theo Fumis is seven years older, he is on his way to the great city of Aftzaak to take the Kafna Exam! He has not grown out of his desire to become a librarian, and wishes to give back the book that Kafna Sedona lent him when she visited his home village. Aftzaak is a long way away, and there are many grand sites and places to visit along the way. Of course, there are friends to be made as well: Mihona, another Kafna hopeful on her way to the exam; Alv, a street-wise youngster; and a citlapol (albino creature) with two tails that Theo names Uira. Together, they travel and arrive in Aftzaak. The Kafna exam is, by all accounts, a grueling experience… can Theo even make it through the first part?

I adore every part of this manga. Of course, I love it because librarians are central to the story 😉 But the worldbuilding is absolutely phenomenal. Each chapter of this volume takes place in a different city along Theo’s route. The chapter pages have illustrations and information about the city, or a monument or natural phenomena nearby. Each city has its own distinct artistic flavor that only grows in scale the closer we get to Aftzaak. It’s interesting to see not only Theo’s character, but the art and world evolve right along with him.

As mentioned in my review of Volume 1, it appears that much of the artistic influence was taken from Middle Eastern and Indian (by that I mean India the Asian country, not Native American tribes; my apologies for any confusion) cultures. It’s more of the same here, in costumes and architecture. In essence, a blend of all of my favorite things.

The grand scale of this literary adventure, coupled with my visual Kryptonite, ensures that I’ll be following this manga very closely.

-Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 2). 2019.

Spy x Family

Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo is the first volume in what promises to be an exciting new manga series.

Twilight is a debonair spy who needs to infiltrate an elite school to gain access to a political leader for an important mission. But he needs to gain a wife and child to do so, all within a week. At first, he hopes that just a child will do so he adopts Anya, a darling little girl who turns out to be a telepath, from a sketchy orphanage. He then later needs to convince a woman to masquerade as his wife, and whoops, Yor turns out to be an assassin. But they all have their private motivations in looking like a family, so they go ahead with the ruse of enrolling Anya in this private school and passing the stringent tests to get in. There is the requisite comedy of errors as these three people need to convince others they are authentic, and of course, they begin to bond despite their best of intentions not to.

The art is crisp and attractive, with a nice balance of action sequences and smaller poignant moments. I believe this will be a popular series, as readers will be delighted with Anya and rooting for Twilight and Yor to find a way to truly become a family together with Anya.  In an interesting coincidence, my oldest son who is a huge manga fan discovered this story on his own and ordered himself a book. Typically I am not a manga reader, so it was nice to be able to chat about this book with him.

As I order graphic novels for my library, I plan to order this series once there are three volumes out for my library’s collection. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance online copy, and putting what looks like a promising new manga on my radar.

-Nancy

Magus of the Library (Vol. 1)

Theo Fumis is a young boy who is a little… different. He has long ears that are a different shape than everyone else in his village. He also lives in the slums with his sister, who works to put him through school. Theo is a smart boy, and more than anything else in the world, he loves to read books. Unfortunately, the library in his village doesn’t allow those living in the slums to use it, leaving Theo to sneak in and out whenever he wants to read. He longs for adventure, for a hero to whisk him away, and perhaps to join the Great Library himself someday. Four kafna – librarians from the Great Library – visit his village to check on the library’s status. One in particular, Sedona Bleu, opens his eyes to the great wide world ahead of him – and shows him that sometimes, we need to be our own hero.

I have to admit, I checked this out from work out of curiosity. A manga with lead librarian characters? Sign me up! I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

The setting is pretty interesting. It’s a mix of fantasy and history with Middle Eastern and Indian elements (which, if I’m being honest, is a cocktail of all of my favorite things!). The architecture and character’s clothes have the elaborate, decorative detail found in those cultures. Social standings of the characters appear to be determined by the Indian caste system. Though we know Theo comes from a poor family, his heritage remains a secret. In this story, humans and mythical creatures live side-by-side, so I am eager to both see more of this world and discover who Theo really is.

The linework of this graphic novel is incredibly tight and precise. It has to be, in order to fit all the intricate decorative elements mentioned previously, but the precision suggests that this is not Mitsu Izumi’s first rodeo. The only complaint I have is that sometimes the flow of the panels isn’t always intuitive. I got confused at more than a few parts by reading ahead or behind where I was supposed to. Perhaps this can be attributed by my novice manga-reading skills.

All in all I was just as impressed with the art as I was the blending of many different elements to create a promising story – which just happens to also star librarians 😉

– Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 1). 2019.

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