Hi everyone! Well, with anime conventions becoming more popular than ever and new anime and manga continuing to appear in abundance on American TV and in the video stores, book stores and comic shops, I thought it was high time to share a little of this growing bounty with you again.

Here’s a small selection of great stuff from my collection, I’ve recently read and enjoyed:

VAGABOND, Issue #16
CHOBITS, Volume 1

1) BATTLE ROYALE, volume 1 (2003)

TOKYOPOP: Publisher

Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi: Creative team

Keith Giffen: English adaptation

As a “fairly” new fan of manga, I love when I stumble upon a new title and I instantly get hooked on it. During one of my numerous treks to my local bookstores several months ago, I spotted a new translation of a Japanese prose novel called BATTLE ROYALE by Koushu Takami.

While I was unfamiliar with the novel, the description on the back cover called it controversial in Japan and the plot sounded genuinely intriguing so I bought a copy and found out soon after that there was a manga version as well.

Set in a dark, corrupt, near-future Japan, the plot revolves around an extreme reality TV game show called “The Program”. Random classes of high school children are picked by a lottery to be contestants in thisprogram. The students are deposited on a secret island and forced to fight to the death while the battles are televised to stellar ratings across Japan. The sole surviving student is declared the winner.

Book one of the manga is primarily a set up for the rest of the series but it hits the ground running right from the opening pages.

The tale begins with two teenage boys named Shuuya and Yoshitoki. Both are orphans and have been best friends since their childhood. Their lives change forever when their entire 9th grade class is selected to participate in The Program.

While I haven’t had the chance to read the novel yet, Giffen’s english manga adaptation succeeds admirably for me. As expected, a variety of students with differing personalities are introduced: a good girl called Noriko pairs off with one of the boys as the game begins. There’s a boy who’s a martial artist. Another boy is a criminal, another is a bully and another is older and has been held back a couple years. There’s a stereotypical big dumb kid. There’s a class “slut”. There are many other boy and girl characters who provide the cannon fodder as the carnage gets underway.

The students arrive at the island under the pretense of going on a class trip. They’re gassed and wake up to find themselves in a classroom led by Mr Kamon, the demented teacher/leader behind The Program. Mr Kamon explains the game rules and survival packs, complete with a weapon for each student, are passed out.

Giffen presents a cast of characters the reader can actually care about or perhaps identify with. Various flashback sequences let the reader know more about the main cast of students.

The game begins, lives are lost and allegiances for or against Mr Kamon begin to form in this very fascinating and deeply engrossing manga that reminds me of a combination of Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, “The Lottery” and LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding…but with automatic weapons.

It’s a great story, which I read at a sitting, but I have one criticism with the art. Taguchi’s art is splendidly crisp, clean, nicely inked, expressive and very detailed but his renditions of some of the students make them look much older than they’re supposed to be, which is roughly 15 or 16 year old teenagers. This is only a minor quibble for an otherwise great manga.

The story is intense, at times, and the art is graphic. It’s not suited for the younger reader but is still worth a look if the plot appeals to you.

2)VAGABOND, Issue #16

Viz Comics

Story and Art by Takehiko Inoue

This was another delightful surprise that came about as the result of a request from a penpal of mine. We both enjoy manga but he doesn’t have a great deal of access to it. I send him material every so often and he recently asked me about a series called VAGABOND.

I currently have one trade paperback collection of VAGABOND on my shelves but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. VAGABOND is also currently published as a monthly english comic. So, to satisfy both our curiosities, I bought a random copy of the regular comic, read it and rather enjoyed it.

For those unfamiliar with this series, VAGABOND, is the fictionalized account of the life of Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), a renowned swordmaster in Tokugawa era Japan.

At this point in Inoue’s narrative, the fictional Musashi is on a quest to become the best swordsman in the land. Reaching the Hozoin temple, he tests his skills against their Hozoin spear technique. Musashi met the Hozoin master, Inshun, in a duel and fled. He sought out Inshun’s master, Hozoin In’ei to prepare for a rematch. Issue #16 starts off with Musashi preparing to face for the second time one of the few foes who truly scares him.

For having never read this series before, I was very pleased by how reader-friendly it was. The comic opens with a brief but very helpful “what has gone before” box that quickly got me up to speed on what happened in the previous fifteen issues. It really wouldn’t kill Marvel or DC to get back to doing this in their books. The black and white artwork is highly reminiscent of Goseki Kojima’s style on the classic LONE WOLF AND CUB manga series: very moody, very atmospheric, dark but not too heavily inked and shaded. Inoue’s artwork captures the saga of a young man on a journey of discovery quite nicely.

So, who wins? Who loses? Read VAGABOND and find out. Viz has been releasing this series in paperback form and I plan on getting more volumes soon. The regular comic format is equally enjoyable and quite affordable too.

If you’re a fan of historical stories or mangas such as LONE WOLF AND CUB or similar samurai adventures, I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s a great read and worth checking out.

3) CHOBITS, Volume 1 (2002)

TokyoPop: Publisher
CLAMP: Creative team

I’d like to close things out with this thoroughly charming shojou (girls) manga from the famed CLAMP creative team, creators of such other manga as CLOVER, CARDCAPTOR SAKURA and MAGIC KNIGHT RAYEARTH among others.

As is the case with several manga I’ve come to enjoy, I first saw CHOBITS as an anime and enjoyed it enough to seek out the manga version.

This is a romance/science fiction/comedy set in a contemporary Japan which also happens to have the existence of human shaped personal computers called “Persocoms”. Male Persocoms are glimpsed but the focus of the series is on the female ones.

The male lead is a fellow called Hideki Motosuwa. He’s 19 years old and struggling to get into college. He pretty much lives the single life of many 19 year old manga males: he’s got a job but barely makes ends meet, likes pornography and girls. A girl at work likes him but he hasn’t realized it yet.

Fairly common stuff, however Hideki also wants a Persocom but can’t afford one and he’s also fairly technically-challenged. Until he finds a Persocom thrown away in the trash and his life changes when he manages to activate it.

The female lead is the Persocom he found in the trash. It looks like a very cute young girl with long white hair (she’s blonde in the anime), funky earpieces and only says the word “Chii” when she awakens and it eventually becomes her name.

The rest of Book One is Hideki’s efforts to find out more about Chii. His friend, Shimbo, who owns a laptop version of a Persocom which resembles a tiny girl called “Plum” (She’s called “Sumomo” in the anime, a name I like better), leads him to a young, wealthy, computer genius called Minoru Kokubunji.

The computer expert discovers Chii has lost her data but can be re-educated. He also believes she is a mythic and extremely powerful Persocom called a “Chobit”, which are supposed to be Persocoms capable of independent thought, emotions and operating without any guidance system. Sort of an artificial intelligence.

Lots of the book is quite funny, sweet (but not overly so) and sometimes a bit sad too. Hideki keeps trying to live his normal life but finds himself attracted to Chii but he’s too decent to take advantage of her. Chii continues to rapidly learn and begins to speak. Readers also get the impression that there’s a great deal more to her that we have yet to learn.

Other characters are introduced: Yumi, a human girl who works with Hideki and likes him. Ms Hibiya, his very attractive landlady who helps him care for Chii. There’s also Ms. Shimizu, Hideki’s equally attractive Cram School (sort of a Japanese college preparation school) teacher.

Much more is revealed in the later volumes. The CLAMP creators have set up a fascinating premise and the stories that follow have proven to be just as funny, sad and sweet as this opening volume.

And little Plum manages to steal every scene she appears in.

CHOBITS isn’t for the very young reader but perfectly suitable for teens and adult audiences. The anime is a delight too. I recommend both.

Well, that wraps up this installment of MANGA VIEWS for this time around. Manga is finally thriving in American bookstores, comic shops and getting more popular each year. I’ll be back to share more views soon but take a look at some manga today. You may be surprised.