Manga: All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Viz’s banner for All You Need is Kill

All You Need is Kill
by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
published by Viz Media, LLC (San Francisco)
2004 and 2014

I was impressed by the movie Edge of Tomorrow (whose posters read. “Live, Die, Repeat,” a slogan which was better known than the movie title). While perusing my new access to the Viz Shonen Jump library, I checked out this title, and… it is the story that Edge of Tomorrow was based on!!

And… it is somehow… darker!?!?

For those of you who didn’t see the movie, the premise is: aliens attack earth, and they are nearly indestructible. A solider dies in battle, and then wakes up the morning before his death. He has to live through that day, the battle, and his death all over again. And again. And again. Though he can change things, he still always winds up dying. And he’s the only one who appears to be repeating that same day – for everyone else, it’s a new day, and they don’t know what is coming. This experience, of brutally dying daily, haunts and hardens him.

Since nearly any skill can be mastered with repetition, and repeating one day IS brutal repetition, he trains to become a super solider, to see if surviving the day can break the loop.

And then, he meets someone else who is experiencing the same thing. And may have figured out how to end it.

It’s a great, painful, dark story. It differs from the movie – it is more compact, there are fewer characters, the deaths are more gruesome, and the mechanics of the time trap are different. Different enough that, even if you’ve seen the movie, you may be impressed with this more cruel and concise version.

I recommend each and every one of these seventeen chapters zealously.

Manga: Ghost Reaper Girl by Akissa Saiké

Ghost Reaper Girl Header from the Viz Shonen Jump website – nicely composed, and what lovely colors! The burnt oranges are really well chosen…

Ghost Reaper Girl
by Akissa Saiké (Akihisa Ikeda)
published by Viz Media, LLC (San Francisco)
2020 – present (2021)

I read all available chapters (1 – 29) of this manga yesterday, and I think it’s lots of fun!

Chloé Love, a struggling, 28-year old horror movie actress, gets her big break in an unexpected way: she allows herself to be possessed by a spirit from Hades to battle evil, and a video of her defeating monsters goes viral. After learning that she is a “spirit medium” who can take on the powers of the spirits who possess her, she starts making friends PLUS fighting evil professionally, with enemies that include the nightmarish creatures of the Cthulhu mythos.

It’s fun! The drawing style is lovely, and consistent in a way I appreciate. Everyone is attractive! Chloé is adorable, caring, and makes friends with everyone!

If I wanted to totally misrepresent this manga for fun, I would say it is about handsome men from Hell who come to the normal world to cook for adoring women, as illustrated by this panel. That is a swoon-worthy idea! These friendly domestic scenes are SO CHARMING!! This clever manga offers so much.

Working for a Great Old One who hides its form by doing sexy-nurse cosplay is light-hearted fun. There is a ‘knowing’ sense of humor in the work about manga conventions generally, and I appreciate the way this manga pokes gentle fun at those conventions while also utilizing them smoothly.

While Chloé does often go to battle in a swimsuit and stockings, her character is proportioned respectably, and is treated with affection. Consent is sexy, and she consents to her possession by her spirit friends for battles.

The action scenes are pleasingly composed, too! The artist uses thoughtful design that gives the action sequences clear progress, which is a major accomplishment that should be recognized. (Too many manga have so many battles that are just movement lines and loud noises, so I really appreciate the thoughtful, well-designed battles with strong visual continuity.)

This is a lovely series from a talented artist that includes humor, supernatural action, great design, and a pleasant cast of characters. It sold me on the idea of subscribing to Shonen Jump (link below), and I’m looking forward to future chapters!

Manga: Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino

Cover of the Viz edition of Volume 6. Yes, I’ll discuss pleats soon.

Vampire Knight
by Matsuri Hino
published in English by Viz Media, LLC, San Francisco
2004 – 2013

As I was exploring the Viz website, I decided to read a preview of Matsuri Hino’s popular shōjo vampire romance. I was immediately hooked on her humor – she laid out immediately that in the school setting where this story takes place, vampires are all gorgeous, and no one can resist them – plus, her clear dedication to fashion / costume design. This is going to be fun! Viz makes it easy to access the English editions by having the complete series available in a digital format for multiple platforms, including their own website (viz.com).

I’m unsure when it’s the best time to review a long series like this. At the moment, I’m 10 volumes in, and that means I’ve read 2,000 pages or so… I’m impressed and how much work it must have taken to lovingly produce these elaborately illustrated pages… Drawing the hair alone could take lifetimes! This is a work of great dedication.

The Story: Yuri Cross is an ordinary schoolgirl protagonist and apparent orphan, being raised by a headmaster at a private school. The school has a day class of ordinary students, and a night class of gorgeous, supermodel-attractive students who are secretly vampires. [squeal] Poor Yuri is tasked with keeping these groups apart during shift changes, even though she is TINY and not very persuasive, aside from having terrifyingly large eyes. (Really, they cross a line into scary-intense.)

Yuri has two love interests attending school, both of whom are relentlessly handsome: Zero, the troubled orphan from a vampire-hunter clan, who has an elaborate neck tattoo and a vampire-hating stare (day class, light hair, wearing black), and Kaname, the broody, indulgent vampire who saved Yuri’s life when she was a small child (night class president, dark hair, wearing white). Yuri doesn’t understand why Kaname, who could have anyone, indulges her, though she knows he is keeping a secret about her past.

Zero and Kaname are rivals for Yuri’s love, because of course they are.

Perfect set up, right? (Answer: Yes. And yes, there are entire articles about why this manga is superior to Twilight, so you don’t even have to raise that.) Societal forces and political intrigue off campus create all sorts of danger: eventually the school is attacked, and Yuri winds up wielding a super-cool weapon much larger than she is, and having to choose between her loves.

What I’m learning: arriving late to this genre, I had to learn some (probably) obvious things.

Chaste blood sucking: Blood sucking is the most forbidden, naughty, taboo thing you can do. (The text specified this.) So, having gorgeous boys lick your hand when you get a paper cut [swoon], or having them sweet talk you into letting you put their fangs into your neck (or each others’ long, handsome necks) [swoon], or generally drinking each others’ blood while making expressions of surrender and ecstasy is naughty, and is a stand-in for… any other possible exchange of bodily fluids. That’s why you keep letting handsome boys nibble on you only in secret: because it’s… taboo and forbidden on campus? Sure! Got it!

Dominance and submission: There are powers of mind control that powerful vampires naturally have over weaker ones! There are spells that can tame someone, and make them obedient to your wishes. Yes, there are.

Beauty appreciation/devotion: everyone is so gorgeous that same-sex attraction is totally understandable. No blame! Though it’s attractive to blush with embarrassment about it, because blushing just makes gorgeous people more gorgeous.

Fashion fetishism: There are the many beautiful fashion touches specific to Hino’s style. These made a big impression on me – the costumes are ELABORATE, and have so many unnecessary-but-pretty fasteners!

I have gone to so many kimono exhibits, and it took me a while to think about these costumes in contrast to those. Traditional Japanese clothing has its lovely flat collars, cord fasteners, printed patterns, straight edges, and wrapped contrasting layers, and these costumes are the opposite of each and every one of those details. Suddenly, Lolita-fashion as rebellion makes total sense. Lace! Buttons! Embroidery! Solids! Pleats! Clasps! Elaborately gathered skirts, crinolines, collars that could get a plane off the runway in a strong wind…. YES! This is fashion fetishism in a consistently designed, affectionate style.

Fasteners and stitches gone wild! Look at the care that goes into these clothes for the cover of Viz’ Volume 11! The buckles on Zero’s coat, the stitching on Yuri’s sleeves…

YES, THERE ARE DRESS UP PARTIES – how could there not be? Also, castles, and ballrooms, and long eyelashes on nearly everyone.

Hino knows EXACTLY what a vampire romance should have, and she delivers with a style that shows great fashion talent and dedication. I see why this is popular! And I understand why there are multiple art books and a sequel.

Be careful of the fan wiki at vampireknight.fandom.com, because it is filled with spoilers, even though it will help you keep track of the characters. (There are lots of blonde men with similar names, but the explanations also tell you their fates!)

I’ll now resume reading the next volume to see what our overdressed heroine, whose big heart still burns for both men, and whose giant weapon can collapse conveniently to fit into a purse, does next…

P.S. A week or so later, at the end of volume 19: Oh! There is a lot of action (fighting, assassinations, explosions) in this series! It’s difficult to keep the peace between humanoids with such different powers and lifespans, especially since some of the vampires get violently ambitious. Major conflicts between the different factions, which complicate our heroine’s romantic relationships, are based in the struggle to keep certain vampires from abusing their special abilities. Note: I got emotional on the very last pages, which means the characters really meant something to me. (Awwwww! This really is bittersweet! I didn’t expect to be so moved.) I really did enjoy this well written, well-paced, gorgeously illustrated, action-packed story.

Book: Mermaid Saga, Volume 2, by Rumiko Takahashi

Mermaid Saga, Volume 2
by Rumiko Takahashi
published in English by Viz
2021

Yuta, the man who ate mermaid flesh and gained unwanted immortality, is tired of having those around him wither and die of old age – he wants a cure. Mana, whom Yuta freed from her lifelong imprisonment, has no one in this world, and her childhood in captivity failed to prepare her for life of any length.

This second volume of stories from Takahashi continues the adventures of this unlikely, very attractive pair, as they seek a non-self-destructive solution to Yuta’s problem, and encounter others who either seek immortality or suffer from it. These stories are dark: obsession, betrayal, failed suicides-by-mermaid-flesh, greed, unwillingness to let go of loved ones, failed efforts at raising the dead, and the inevitability that seriously evil people would gain immortality and terrorize mortals around them for centuries….

The Viz Collector’s Edition includes color pages with cover art from individual issues, and their just LOVELY.

Why I like it: Yuta is fundamentally kind-hearted, and wants to help others, even though it entangles him and Mana in many dangerous (and interesting!) dramas; Mana develops an innocent and adorable loyalty to him.

Takahashi draws these characters with FANTASTIC hair, extra-shiny eyes, and lovely details – the old people look really crinkly, their expressions are very expressive, the monsters have bulging, distressing eyes, her fabrics and buildings are always so well observed and rendered. Her slightly industrial coastal fishing towns ring very true; she manages to include many lines suggesting the flow of water in so many subtle ways…

Takahashi is famous for her comedies, such as Ranma 1/2, but these stories show that she has a serious side, and sees that humans have the capacity for terrible behavior. The goodness of our hero balances what could otherwise be a dark world view, while still showing that being good in the human world takes determination and real effort.

Viz produced a beautiful collection, and being able to have all of the stories in just two convenient volumes, with lovely color covers, color inserts for the individual issue colors, and some other splashes inside, makes following the story easy AND a pleasure.

Yuta and Mana’s fate is undecided at the end of this volume, as you would expect for unintended immortals, which feels RIGHT. I’m so glad I have this, and am delighted I was able to get this collection so soon after its publication in English!

Book: The Mermaid Saga, volume 1, by Rumiko Takahashi

Yes, even the cover is so lovely…

Mermaid Saga (volume 1)
by Rumiko Takahashi
published in English by VIZ Media, LLC, San Francisco
2020

Yes, Rumiko Takahashi, the ‘princess of manga,’ published these stories in 2003, but now Viz has a beautiful, “signature edition” in English and with color inserts that is truly special! The second volume is being published this month, so I rushed out to get the first, and I LOVE it. You can read a free preview at the Viz website (viz.com)!

Mana is a lovely girl, being affectionately raised in a remote village of women, but must live in shackles. She is being raised… for a purpose that hasn’t been disclosed to her.

Yuta has watched his wife and loved ones die of old age while he remains young, after inadvertently eating the flesh of a mermaid. While his fellow diners died horribly or turned into miserable monsters, he received the immortality and endless youth that so many others will kill for. But he doesn’t want to live forever.

Unlike Takahashi’s light-hearted, comedic manga like Ursei Yatsura or Ranma 1/2, Mermaid Saga is a dramatic horror story. There is violence and plenty of death; monsters are real; humans behave monstrously; and people ruin the lives of people they claim to love through betrayals, violence, jealousy, murder, and imprisonment.

The artwork is lovely, which may seem like a funny thing to say when Yuta is constantly filthy and bleeding from some new wound! Takahashi’s work is beautifully composed; the fabrics are all lovingly rendered; the landscapes and cityscapes are all evocative; there is a convincing amount of detail (just enough, exactly where it should be); the action lines are bold, and anything that flows has lovely curves; everyone has FANTASTIC HAIR; old people are super, super old… The color and toned work in certain sections are an added bonus. SHE IS SO GOOD! I want to call her the QUEEN of manga, though they don’t historically have queens in Japan, but she deserves all the accolades.

Mana and Yuta didn’t CHOOSE their situation, but they are actively choosing to change it! It’s a compelling, serious set of stories. I’m hoping I’ll have volume 2 in my hands later this month!

Books: Appleseed by Masamune Shirow

Covers of the Eclipse editions of Appleseed Books One and Two by Masamune Shirow

Appleseed Book One: The Promethean Challenge
Appleseed Book Two: Prometheus Unbound
Appleseed Book Three: The Scales of Prometheus
Appleseed Book Four: The Promethean Balance

by Masamune Shirow and Seishinsha (and many translators)
published in English by Eclipse International (books One and Two) and Dark Horse Manga (a part of Dark Horse Comics) (not shown, Books Three and Four)
1989, 1990, 2008, 2009

I was recently chatting with an architect, and discussed how 1980s manga from Japan had some interesting conceptual architecture. The 80s were an era when the idea of “arcologies” (large sustainable, self-contained or partially self-supporting construction projects) was all the rage in architecture theory magazines, and some famous Japanese architects made some wild sculptural drawings which got a lot of press. On this topic, I loaned him the first two volumes of Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed manga.

Two panels from Appleseed Book One

Now it’s my fault that architecture students at a local UC have to create an architecturally-themed manga as one of their assignments. (Sorry, kids!)

The architecture in the manga IS really detailed – these aren’t just backgrounds for wild action, but an entire portfolio of theoretical architectural design work in its own right. The end papers of each comic are always architectural, and whether the images are of the ruined high rises of the old world, or the solar-paneled developments of the new one, they are all done with pleasing attention to detail.

There are also lots of 1980s touches to the futurism – there are tons of 45 degree angled walls and buildings just because that’s what we all thought was cool at the time, and things are only barely rounded, just a tad. Our futurism always gives away when we really made something! But it’s NICE. It’s internally consistent from a design standpoint. It’s always done ALL THE WAY.

Should I say something about the manga itself? (What, there is a story?) Okay. Shirow, who is more famous for Ghost in the Shell (which has been turned into feature films at least four times now) was really at his peak (architecturally – ha!) for the Appleseed story. It follows a pair of soldiers, Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires, who were living in the ruins of cities in the aftermath of a devastating world war, as they are recruited to live in a new civilization that has risen from the ashes. They become police in a seemingly utopian society, but are put off a bit by the fact that most of the peaceful, educated residents of their new home are bio-engineered, and no longer completely human.

The first two volumes are world-building: Shirow explains world history, the rise of Olympus, the purpose of its population, and the political tensions that arise when you try to decide whether or not humans are really, you know, SAFE.

The second two volumes rely on the first (you can’t just start there), and show the ongoing struggles of our protagonists with their dangerous jobs and complex political entanglements. These are mostly action sequences, and less philosophical than the first two, which had so many meaning-of-life debates among engineered bioroids that they required footnotes. (No, really.)

I have objections to some elements of the manga. A big one: Women’s Bodies. The men are covered from head to toe, or are encased in robotic bodies, but the women show skin all the time, to the point that there are shower scenes (because of course). So, you 100% know this was drawn by a man, what his preferred body types are, and also that he is damned near obsessed with the female pelvic region, because of how often you can see it rendered in great detail even during fight scenes. (Once you see this theme, you can’t unsee it. HOW MANY HIGH KICKS DOES A WOMAN REALLY NEED TO PLACE IN EVERY DAMNED BATTLE, HUH?) I now know that later in his career, Shirow turned to what we (Americans) call softcore porn drawings of shiny, oiled-looking youthful girls/women, so please be careful with your image searches!

Also, as a part black woman, I’m not a fan of how he draws black people. Since most of the characters appear to be heavily stylized pseudo-European (rather than Asian), there is a hazy stylized ethnic ambiguity until black people arrive, and they are suddenly VERY different. I’m not saying we aren’t bigger or can have different features, but between the one black character in Macross/Robotech, or in the more recent Castlevania, there are some great manga-stylized renderings that I find more attractive. I realize that I have access to black people in my own family, and Shirow may not, but I was… confused by several of them, honestly.

So I have positive architectural feelings about Appleseed, and especially appreciate the buildings, machines, and industrial design of the first two books.