Monday, February 11, 2008

Manga Mondays (A Neophyte's View): Pretty Face Vol. 4

Two reasons for this weekly feature:

1) I felt that I really had to start reading this stuff in order to fully say that I truly know what's going on in this industry.

2) Manga companies have particularly good "comp" programs.

Also, I do find some manga rather enjoyable, especially really "light" shojo and the horror titles.

That said, my lack of manga knowledge might show in this column, so please excuse me.

Pretty Face Volume 4
by Yasuhiro Kano
Viz Media

Simply put, Pretty Face is about a guy who gets in a horrible accident and has his face replaced in plastic surgery with that of the girl he has a crush on. Now he must dress like the girl's missing twin sister.

It's kinky, okay?

I am fascinated by manga's ability to take sexually-adventurous subject matter and package it in such a Disney-fied, sunny, stylistic manner. Questioning one's sexual identity would seem to be an issue for developing teens, and mature subject matter titles like Pretty Face (Viz recommends the book for readers 16+ and has an advisory label on the cover) address these concerns in a non-threatening way.

That said, there are a lot of panties in this book. And a pair of breasts (that we are assured are actually fake and on a man). That said, how is this that much different from teen sex comedies like American Pie? Maybe the fake breasts on a man part. Then again, Bugs Bunny was dancing around with oranges in his shirt more than 50 years ago.

As for the readability of the book -- it was enjoyable. It had that rapid-fire screwball comedy element rife with double-entendres like a Three's Company episode. I really find I have to suspend belief that macho karate champion Rando is the same little blond chick running around the book; the way he/she is drawn, the male body elements are pretty much non-existent. Except for the cliffhangers where we almost see his wiener (of which, as you can imagine, are many).

Still haven't read enough Shojo to make a comparative analysis in terms of quality, but it was alright. Although I would like to ask series creator Yasuhiro Kano what he means by calling Natsuo a "panties character" (clue: I think it has something to do with all those shots of her panties).



    I'm *so* happy to see you started reading manga! I started for the same reason you did - I felt I had to read some to understand the comics industry on the whole. I'm now knee deep in Bleach and One Piece books and I think Death Note was one of the most fun stories I've read in any medium!

    I hope you continue to investigate a few more manga series! I'd be *really* interested to see what a mainstream reader thinks of a sampling of manga books!

  2. Read Azumanga Daioh. Please. It's all barrels of awesome and funny and touching and gratifying and awesome wrapped up in 4 wonderful books. Read it.
    Death Note - also rather good. The first shot of the Shinigami made me nearly crap my pants. Very scary.

  3. I like Fullmetal Alchemist; my fiancee likes Deathnote, but I dunno about growing outward...

  4. Back in the day I was reading a lot of Manga, but now not so much. I think the long series' tend to degrade over time.

    I was reading:

    Shonen Jump
    Price of Tennis, lol.
    Initial D
    Great Teacher Onizuka
    Ranma 1/2
    Love Hina
    Iron Wok Jan
    Lupin III
    Blade of the Immortal

    and a bunch more that I read from the library. GTO was probably my favorite of them all, but now I'm all DC really except Blade I still read.

  5. There is a lot of gender-bending in western-edition manga - probably a disproportionate amount in relation to how much actually appears in the domestic Japanese market, so I imagine that says more about western reading habits than it does Japanese comics as a whole.

    Sexy Voice and Robo is a fun read, as are Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, XXXHolic, and Lone Wolf and Cub is practically essential - though there are two things to consider before first reading it: 1) The class system in relation to peasants and women is hard to stomach, even taken in context, and 2) it's printed so it's read left-to-right like a regular western comic, and there are an odd number of wapanese that seem to resent this.

    It's probably worth noting that manga still focuses on attaining younger readers and succeeds in doing so, and this is in the most gadget-friendly and technologically-literate country on the planet. To me, that kind of says the argument that kids are hard to reach as a potential comics audience because of videogames and cellphones is a load of crap.

  6. "Still haven't read enough Shojo to make a comparative analysis in terms of quality, but it was alright."

    Actually, 'Pretty Face' is shonen. It's intended for an audience of teen and twenty-something guys. Shojo is a whole different ball of wax.

  7. This plot is just wonderfully cracktastic. I have to wonder if the idea of suing for medical malpractice ever occurs to any of the people involved.

    If you're going to be enjoying manga, do yourself a favor and check out Yotsuba &! It's fifteen pounds of adorable awesome in a ten pound bag.

  8. A nice addition to the site, although I’m afraid I won’t get much out it. I gave manga a good four-year try before I finally gave it up. The pacing of the stories and how long they take to get anywhere significant drives me crazy. It’s just a cultural difference, but I guess my tastes fossilized before I started reading the stuff. The flip side to that is manga has helped American comics slow down a bit instead of action, action, action, action. That makes me very, very happy.

    Oh, and the art style – it’s nice but isn’t anybody in the entire country of Japan trying to do something different? America – all superheroes but lots of art styles. Japan – lots of story types but one style. What the heck?

  9. @dan

    Shonen is for 5-12 year old boys. I think you're thinking of seinen.

    I second (or third or whatever) Deathnote. I also recommend Revolutionary Girl Utena. It's kinda old at this point, but it's one of my favorites.

  10. Yeah, Pretty Face is shounen (aimed at teenaged boys). If you're looking for some actual shojo manga that's popular with female manga fans (of which I am one) you should check out Ouran Highschool Host Club or Fruits Basket.

    You might want to check out some Josei manga (manga aimed at college aged and older female teens) as well. Some of my favorite stuff is in that such as Tramps Like Us (the series is complete even) and Nodame Cantabile. Nodame Cantabile is about students in a music college. Tramps like Us has lots of interesting sex/age/gender dynamics in it. The main character/heroine takes a younger man off the street and ... makes him her pet. And yes, they actually play that situation semi seriously.

  11. Dan touched on something important: Boys' romance manga can appear to be a girls' comic at first blush. After a few more exposures to the genre, you should be able to tell the two apart in the dark.

    And I'll step up and add to the dizzying collection of recommended titles: From Eroica with Love. Eroica, a flamboyantly gay art thief, plays a game of cat and mouse with the impossibly dour (and beautiful) German military policeman sent to bring him in. IIRC, Eroica goes through a new prettyboy in just about every chapter, all the while pining for the unattainable Hun, Klaus.

    Yasuko Aoike (along with her army of uncredited assistants) has been putting this one out for about 30 years.

  12. @ Archon Divinus

    Well, I'd say shonen is aimed at boys from pre-teen up to about university age, so it tops at around around 17-18, and seinen takes over from there, but you're right. I was lumping the two of them together and that's inaccurate.


    Exactly. It can be easy to get them mixed up because the divide is based on who the stories are being pitched at, not what genre they are, although there are enough easy reference points that once you get your footing it becomes pretty easy to tell the two apart. There's shonen romance and shojo romance, but if there's a ton of panty shots, it's unlikely to be shojo, simply because that's not what would appeal to the teen girl market.

  13. I'm not particularly a Japanese comics fan- I just like whatever's good from whatever country or culture produces it.

    I second Bryan about Lone Wolf and Cub. Not only is the author Koike Kazuo one of the finest comics writers of any nationality- I'd rank him easily the equal of Alan Moore- but it's drawn by Kojima Goseki, one of the absolute masters of sequential art. It's a must not only for Japanese comics fans, but also for comics fans period. After all, most of what Frank Miller did to make his initial reputation he borrowed directly from Koike and Kojima!

    Bryan's caveats... I second those too. Not for the faint of heart this series. But it's also worth noting that Koike taught/instructed/mentored many women who've become some of the top comics creators here... including ultra-genius Takahashi Rumiko of Ranma 1/2 fame.

    I also recommend Ito Junji's work, especially Uzumaki, which is the craziest horror comic I've ever read and the ONLY one that's ever actually creeped me out or come close to frightening me. His Museum of Horror series from Dark Horse is excellent!

    Also see Nana, which is akin to Love & Rockets and Life which is like something out of Minx (but written much better) by way of Fantagraphics... a scathing look at high school and troubled teens with few if any of the tropes or cliches of the more romantic comedy high school genre titles.

    In fact, it's one of the few comics I'd suggest to schools because teenagers should read and discuss the issues it addresses.

  14. It's precisely times like this for which I created my page of good manga starting points. Obviously, it's from a female point of view, but I recommend Tramps Like Us, Planetes, Paradise Kiss, and other titles.

    Patrick, there's as much variety in Japanese comic art styles as there is in American -- we just tend to see much of the same brought over here. If you're looking for something outside the usual big eyes/big hair, The Walking Man has some absolutely gorgeous, incredibly detailed art.

  15. you confused shojo with shonen XD Shojo were published in magazines targeted as girls and shonen as boys. Viz actually has in the label that information, Tokyopop doesn't and I don't know about other publishers. :)
    I haven't read pretty face I will admit... too much comics that I need to buy and have to prioritize.
    I think I will join to the suggestions fest ;)
    In shojo good examples are Ouran Host club, Fruits basket(I heard is #1 in sales, that may pick your interest)The titles serialized now in Shojo Beat may be a good example. (I'm specially fond of Crimson high which is about high school girls volleyball)
    In shonen there is deathnote and claymore.
    Hellsing is more for late teens and adults but is great.
    As other people had already recomended, I also sugest you to read Tramps like us(tokyopop) and Ai Yazawa works(Nana, paradise kiss) They are for 16 and older but they are great works.
    Hope the suggestions are useful. :)

  16. ust another recommendation for Death Note.

    It's a manga that shows great depth & suspense (and really fantastic artwork). A truly good story - with a very unique premise.

    I don't want to load this post down with too many details, but if you're really trying to 'get into' manga, you can't go wrong with Death Note -- it's tops.

    That is all. :)

  17. Ok- this is just an opinion from a random person but (deep breath)

    1. I'm not really that into manga, but often they allow for subject matter (as you've indicated) that doesn't really fit into an anime.

    And my friends agree- 99% of it is crap. Like most things. You seem to have chosen a rather adventurous premise (as far as sexuality goes, it's rather common, but the specifics here i've never heard before)

    All that said,
    the only manga you ever need to read is Gantz. It'll blow your mind.