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Men of Strategy

31 Oct

Not often will you come across comics of this style. Even in manga, this particular type of manga is rare. I have encountered very few of its ilk, and have greedily sought out other works which I might consider similar. The reason for my vagueness shall be made clear, for this style of manga that I am talking of is not really an existing genre. The artwork is unique, in its duplication of the real world. Not a manga of handsome heroes then. Come on, take a walk down any street. How many movie star beautiful people will you see out there?

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Manga Madness and the Big Cats.

3 Oct
Woah trippy. I hope this isnt yaoi.
Far away, across mists of time and space. Perhaps in a different world or simply in a different time there exists a land of golden Savannah. It is flanked by a dense forest, but its plains are vast and glow with the warmth of the sun. Proud are the lions who call this place their home. Humans and cats alike. Welcome to the Land of Lions, home to a proud warrior race. A lion is fierce and strong and defiant till the last, few can look a lion straight in the eye and hold its predator’s gaze. Fewer still can walk away to tell the tale.

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Monday Manga Madness: The Bare Neccesities – II

25 Jul

All hail the Samurai, for his sword is swift and true. Countless tales have been written about the precision of the way of the sword. Countless romantic sagas, recording the brave deeds and the ideals of the Samurai. Tales abound of Bushido, the warrior’s way. The code of conduct and chivalry by which ancient Japanese swordsmen lived, and died. But they are all tales, stories, fables…untrue.

Pick up any one of them, give it a long hard stare with a questioning eye and you will see it as a story and little more. Fitting and perhaps even grand to read, but in no way possible in the realities of life. And then there is Shigurui. Literal meaning Death throes. This aptly titled manga is truly one of the most underrated works out there. Not many know of it, even amongst those who do know of it, not many have managed to finish it. It takes a strong stomach to read through this manga. Surely not for the faint of heart.

There is despair in this manga. Despair so thick, it will cloud your senses. Despair and honor and horror aplenty. Not the supernatural horror, no, but a purer psychological horror that can only be wrought by man, glorious in all his failings. For sure, it is the more terrifying horror of the two. How far will two men go to realize their obsessions? What is a Samurai, but a tool in the hands of his master? Just as a sword is a tool in the hands of the Samurai. To what lengths does devotion run? To what limits must a man obey his master’s wishes? The way of the warrior is narrow and the darkness that surrounds him is thick. When does he know he has strayed from the path?

These are the questions that are asked by this compelling manga by Takayuki Yamaguchi. Hard questions, and not all of them are answered. Visually this manga is a treat. The artwork is beautiful and almost Hellenistic in it’s attention to proportion and details. The homoerotic nudges notwithstanding, the artist shows a remarkable eye for the human body and for all the muscles that allow us our daily activities. The story is first rate with an ending that has the power to move you to tears, if you are the sort to be moved by such things.

Shigurui is second on my list of most wanted manga that you as an avid manga reader can absolutely not do without.

It is a true Samurai story, one you can easily imagine to have occurred in the era depicted. Truly if a society existed where the art of the warrior was given such paramount importance then it would have been thus, as presented in these pages. It made a believer out of me. There is a tragic beauty to this manga. I was smitten by a sense of loss and waste, for there is no hero and no villain. Hardly any rights, and few punishable wrongs. Besides, heroes and villains belong in the world of storybooks. And whatever this manga is, it is no storybook.

Red is their favorite color
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Monday Manga Madness: The Bare Neccesities – I

18 Jul

I have been talking about a wide variety of manga in this little writing space. We have ranged from swords to fantasy and onward to more diverse topics. Most of the recommendations have been generic and I am certain an avid manga reader would have managed to recognize more than a title or two. In addition I try and stay away from grading a manga on any scale, for simplicity’s sake. Considering how subjective the very idea of manga and it’s appreciation is, grading stuff would lead me down a sticky slope I am not very keen on sliding. However this one time I will be breaking from convention, no not by grading anything. But instead by recommending manga that should absolutely, most definitely, under no circumstances be missed by any fan of manga anywhere.

And yes, when I say anywhere I mean the realm of the Elder Gods too.

Right, so here it is. This isn’t my list of favorite manga mind you. I’m not sure I like them too much. I prefer my manga more light hearted and funny, and these are pretty serious in both content and delivery. But these manga, have surpassed the norms and cliches that hold down other more commercially viable manga out there. These works have transcended into a realm where they are now truly without exception masterpieces of fiction. Each series presented here is a hallmark blend of brilliant story writing and excellent artwork. They are surreal, and moving to such a degree that I assure you….go through this list of manga and you will not come away unmoved.

Let us begin.

Oh yeah, I went there.
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20th Century Boys:

Man, what more can I say about this manga that has not already been said. A classic of the mystery/sci-fi genre. Naoki Urusawa’s magnum opus will draw you in from page 1, and it will not let you go until the story is done with you. This manga has a force to it, a power, a spell perhaps crafted delicately and elaborately. A spiraling story line hooks you not just once, but many times over. With many of the hooks coming in only later much later into the story line. So much so that you might get jittery by the sheer power of the cliffhangers that dot its storyscape. They are infrequent, they come when you least expect them and almost always they have something to do with that one character in the series upon whom you would pray and wish no harm befall. But there is harm, heaps of harm. And there is much much more.20th century boys, is one of those manga out there that openly defies constraints like genres and stereotypes. Tropes are used and discarded with unbelievable abandon, and nothing in this manga is what you expect. The title itself comes from the classic rock and roll track by T. Rex. The tale begins in distant past, proceeds into dizzying future and an unusual narrative allows for time skips and jumps that reveal the present. Mystery is the name of the game. For indeed the entire story is one big unraveled mystery, as the tale progresses our heroes unravel bits and pieces of the great mystery. However the answers bring with them more questions, hard questions. And not all questions want to be answered. Some are old questions, some are secrets. And secrets always protect themselves.

20th Century Boys
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It is a roller coaster ride across a fantastical Sci Fi background and one of the few manga that should probably me made mandatory reading at such level. Would do wonders to the education system. The writing has a very Stephen King feel to it, an otherworldly feeling of despair and unease will constantly creep into your thoughts as you read on. Which of course allows for great atmosphere for the manga. There are definitely things about this manga I dont like, for instance the pacing of the story over the course of many chapters becomes decidedly Shonen like. The climaxes and constant cliffhangers become almost repetitive. As cardinal a sin as it gets. This reminded me of JJ Abrams and his disaster in Lost, of the promising start and how hey bungled it up simply because they did not know when to stop. But thankfully the series ends before this can become a serious problem. Smart decision that, very smart decision.

A visual treat
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A problem with reviewing of manga series like this one is that I am unsure as to what elements of the story, if any should be revealed. And as such anybody expecting details of story from this review would be disappointed. In fact, this isn’t even a proper review. Consider this a very strongly worded recommendation. Read 20th century Boys, find it right now and read it. Just trust me else this distant disembodied cyberspace entity will haunt your dreams forever. Trust me and find this manga and read it. You will not be disappointed, you might not be elated with what you find… but what I do know for sure. Is that you wont come away from it unchanged.

Manga Madness: On Dinosaurs…

11 Jul

Today on Manga Madness, I would like to invite you all to the Jurassic era. A time when Dinosaurs roamed the earth. A time when ferocious monsters ruled this very land. A harsh time. And unfortunately a time of which we know little. All denizens of that age perished in some unknown doom that visited Earth all those years ago. But wait, what if one survived? What havoc would it unleash upon the unsuspecting next age of the Earth.

As it turns out, it can unleash quite a lot of havoc. Welcome to the world of Gon. The pint sized dinosaur who has a big attitude. And a bite to match. A hilarious manga based around the adventures of said dinosaur. Each chapter delves into the exploits of Gon. As he interacts with the paleolithic world around him. A new world, a changed world. Interactions wary from villainous predators who underestimate Gon at their own peril, to even newly made friends, and even an adopted family. A rich beautiful world ripe for exploration is explored. As Gon can be spotted in a myriad of places, the setting continually changes. One can expect a tropical rainforest in one chapter, and a savannah in the next. But Gon’s role itself surprisingly keeps changing. From tormentor of lions, to forming a posse of abandoned cubs who have lost their mothers. The manga is mature in content. For Mother Nature is cruel if impartial. Many times the outcomes are gory, and death is pretty graphic when touched upon. But that should not keep you away from the manga. For their is comedy too.

The comedy in the manga is exceptional, with some scenes so good that you will be in splits. And that’s not the only great thing about this manga. Gon has absolutely no dialogues. Since for obvious reasons, a manga dealing with a dinosaur’s interaction with different animals would have no need for dialogue. Such a simple implementation of basic fact renders infinite beauty and depth to this manga. I know I hanker on about depth to no end. But depth is important to a manga. For now without dialogue, the artist has to work that extra mile to convey emotions. And boy does the artwork deliver. It is a treat, a unique visual experience which feels very fresh as opposed to traditional manga art. A lost world unfolds before the reader. A world where man has no place. A world of animals and an age of nature. Now gone forever.

Gon is almost an experimental read of a manga. And perhaps the fanatical manga reader will not enjoy it. But if you like comic books, then you will fall in love with the adorable dinosaur. But dont be fooled, step on his tiny toes even a moment and he will take a BITE out of you.

Monday Manga Madness: Tower of God

4 Jul

A review by Seema Kakade

It’s not always I come across a story that is something different from a 16 year old high school teen doing everything to find a boyfriend for herself and when she does, the guy turns out to be a vamp or a monster etc. OR a 16 year old high school teen that is suddenly bestowed with a supernatural power and now has to save the world. So, well, you get the idea how cliché most stories are getting lately. But, Tower of God, here, blows the mountain of cliché stories up in the land of cliché-ness to win itself the title of the King of Originality hands down!

Tower of God

Summary – Tower of God is an action and adventure story by Siu, which is basically about a young boy called Twenty-fifth Baam (yes, the name is so unique too that it totally throws you, but you get used to it) who is stuck in this dark world, which is actually a strange tower full of strange creatures and a strange world of their own, that he knows nothing about, only to be saved by a young girl, who quickly becomes his one and only friend and the most important person in his life. So after a few years, when she suddenly decides to climb up the tower to see the sky and a whole new world of its own, as it is rumored, Baam is less than disappointed. But before he gets a chance to speak his opinion, she disappears. Having no other reason to continue living, he decides to dedicate the rest of his life to find her. And the only way to do that is climb up the tower and hope to bump into her on the way. So, the story is all about the trials and series of tests he has to pass to clear each level of the tower and keep climbing up. And since there are a lot of different paths to climb up, his only hope to meet her is through coincidence or a rare stroke of luck, which doesn’t stop him from giving it a try.

THE Tower of God!!!
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Story – Tower of God is an extremely engaging story that is full of twists that leaves you either gasping with surprise or jaws dropped at the end of almost each chapter. And the plot only gets thicker and more complicated as you move on. I can guarantee there wouldn’t be a single moment throughout the story where you’d want to quit or wonder how long it’s going to drag on. You have everything – well thought characters, a very original story with twists that seem to never end, intelligent dialogues, sensible scenarios that sometimes almost make you go what-crappy-mangas-was-I-reading –until-now! And that is not an exaggeration. This is a must read if you are looking for something other than a 16 year old teen fighting off evil with his super powers, really!
Sample Page 1
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Characters – As I said before, the characters are quite unique (no typical tsundere, yandere, kawaii etc. characters – AT ALL!). The characters are smart, which you can tell from the intelligent conversations they engage each other with. There is also a pretty wide variety of characters you come across too – ranging from a completely idiotic monster alligator (yes, he’s an important character there!) to an almost invincible lizard warrior who is desperate to claim her position as a princess of one of the kingdoms inside the tower (yes, they even have towns and cities inside the tower) to our hero, who’s naïve but quite sensible and extremely cooperative kid stuck in the middle of the never-ending absurdities of the tower. Overall, I’d give an 8/10 for originality, personality-wise, apart from considering the fact that most of them are not really humans.  Even the lizard princess looks really cool when you see her actually get down to business.  The names are quite original, but I wouldn’t give the manhwa much credit for its character design.
Sample Page 2
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Art – Art is not exactly wow, but not something that would make you wish you were blind. It’s average at best, but good enough to pass. The movements of the characters are fluid (unlike the stiff movements you see in Hwang Mi-Ri’s manhwas) and drawn quite well. I wouldn’t rate it much for the expressions and originality in the outfits either. Most of them wear plain outfits – nothing out of the world, and places are, well, let’s just say they are either open fields or an ordinary four-walled room or a dueling room. But, since the story is good, I’d let the plainness of the background and the characters pass. Don’t expect the art to get any better as the story goes, either. But the best thing about this is how each chapter is completed in a single page, which is SUPER long and all of them are colored. This is one unique part about the manhwa that I’m sure you’d enjoy. I’d give it 10/10 for story boarding! It truly is exceptional! I especially loved how certain scenes are broken by just plain dialogues or thoughts that only intensify the moment.
Overall, it’s quite a good read and a good break from the usual cliché mangas. I’d recommend it at least for the originality of the story that the author has come up with. It’s like a breath of fresh air in a room that is stinking with over-used plots and characters! Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.