August is Anime month at NARAZU and we couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate (and introduce) this influential and groundbreaking genre with you. Some on our team have been Anime/Manga fans since the 80s (Leo and George), while Clarence and Cerece are still discovering its unique storytelling power. As always, this issue brings you a sample of the BEST independent artists on the anime/manga scene – from vengeful school ghosts and unicorns to thought-provoking sci-fi and a con recommendation to continue the love affair. Enjoy!
All Indie. All Awesome.
Possibly the most popular film on this list, Tekkonkinkreet is an audacious urban fable from 2006, and also represents a unique union of Western and Eastern creatives. Based on a manga by the venerated, incomparable Taiyō Matsumoto, Tekkonkinkreet is a psychedelic — but somehow grounded — melange of street culture, organized crime, space aliens, and mythical beasts. Kuro and Shiro are the so-called “Cats,” two young orphans who patrol Treasure Town and help stabilize its various (and seemingly endless) conflicts between different factions. Beneath their laissez-faire veneer, though, the two struggle with protecting one another while also suffering restricted access to a conventional childhood. The film’s visual style will grab you right out of the gate, using every color in the crayon box to bring Treasure Town to life, and the soundtrack, composed by British electronic music duo Plaid, adds to the anthemic and unpredictable atmosphere. It’s an intimate and sincere story of adolescence told with a lot of bluster, a combination which effectively grabs your attention. You can purchase it on DVD and Blu-ray via Amazon, or stream it for $2.99 on Vudu.
In an entirely different vein of science fiction: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise was the first full-length feature by Gainax, an anime studio which would later find great success with the infamous mecha series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Wings of Honneamise is an understated but probing allegorical story about mankind’s initial space travel on a parallel Earth, and while it exhibits a methodically slow-paced structure, it’s beautiful and vibrant in its detail. Originally released back in 1987, it features stunning animation which puts most of its contemporaries to shame, and a kind of Pynchonesque main character who’s hard to love. Although Akira would explode into Japanese theaters the following year, Wings of Honneamise’s intentions were completely different, with a philosophically dense plot and a unique approach to visual storytelling, complete with sudden and irreverent scene transitions. It’s a challenging film in numerous ways, but reveals its treasures to a patient viewer. Check out the Blu-ray available on Amazon, and it occasionally pops up on popular streaming platforms. [Note: there is a notorious (though non-explicit) scene featuring an attempted sexual assault in the film, one which is sometimes removed in certain versions. I wanted to call it out, even though I also wouldn’t categorize it as remotely prurient or exploitative.]
Speaking of Gainax, one of the most famous creators to emerge from its fold was Hiroyuki Imaishi, who would go on to direct the mecha anime Gurren Lagann and the bizarre and cheeky trope-busting series Kill la Kill. Way back in 2004, though, Imaishi made Dead Leaves, a short 52-minute action sci-fi anime film that’s like an intense adrenaline shot with an LSD chaser. Lovers Pandy and Retro (who inexplicably has a television for a head, similar to the Robot Kingdom in the comic Saga) are arrested after an extensive crime spree and sent to Dead Leaves, a lunar prison run by demented super-powered wardens. Every single story element and physical action in Dead Leaves feels like boosted up to 11, and it maintains this overblown energy from start to finish. It’s arguably one of the most memorable directorial debuts in anime, but remains an under-appreciated gem, and has sadly never seen a proper Blu-ray release. For fans of FLCL (Imaishi himself actually directed an episode of the cult series), Dead Leaves will leave you wishing there was a sequel, but what’s here is precisely channeled and still unlike anything else. You can pick up the DVD on Amazon.
Writer – Greg Pak
Artist – Takeshi Miyazawa, Colorist – Triona Farrell
We’ll start in the west out of BOOM! Studios with Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa’s Mech Cadet Yu, a modern spin on the Mecha genre, that takes place in a world where giant robot mechas are mysteriously sent to earth once a year to bond with humans and battle the Sharg. Over the years the humans have developed a school, the Sky Corps Academy, for making sure the best have been chosen to bond with the robots, but sometimes the system gets it wrong and the mecha chooses its own driver, like our hero Yu. At face value this may seem like a sci-fi action thriller of a boy and his robot going to war, but its core is about overcoming obstacles like class and status, and building friendships. Pak’s story never glamorizes war, going out of its way to spotlight the fallout of warfare for the warriors, support staff and the regular citizens caught in the crossfire. Miyazawa and colorist Farrell render Pak’s story beautifully with tight linework, stylish designs and vibrant colors.
Writer/Illustrator – Naoki Urasawa
Co-writer – Takashi Nagasaki
The team of Urasawa and Nagasaki give us a modern day retelling of Nagasaki’s father’s Astro Boy, using the sixties cartoon as a framework and blending influences like Blade Runner to create a futuristic action drama where robots and A.I.’s are an everyday part of society. I forgot how much I love this nuanced series, populated with a cast of robots who are as complex in their daily lives and desires as any human. As our heroes struggle to figure out who’s murdering the world’s greatest robots and the overall conspiracy around it, you’ll want to know more and invest in our “Astro Boy” Atom, or Gesicht, the world’s greatest detective robot who just wants to take his wife on vacation. Bottom line, Urasawa is a master at crafting story and art, packing as much information in his silent panels as he does with his full-dialogue panels. Having come out a few years ago it should still be easy to find all eight volumes at your local comic shop or bookstore, or you can buy them here.
Writer – ONE
Artist – Yûsuke Murata
As far as action, this is the weirdest of the picks. Saitama, aka One Punch Man, is the most powerful being on a world filled with super human beings intent on conquest or destruction, with intent being the operative word as Saitama lives up to the title. I love the visual aesthetic of the book with the world and villains drawn in the typical manga style, fully rendered, but our hero is drawn in a very basic and simple cartoon style. Incredibly detailed in its violence, One Punch Man is also a very funny book. Villians give massive exposition about themselves or their plans, right before getting the sugar one-punched out of them. If you want to try it out, the first issue is currently available for free on Comixology.
My last pick isn’t a book but a destination. If you don’t have any plans for September 14-16, and getting to Atlantic City, New Jersey is easy, then head to this popular con, now in its 7th year (having moved from its Philly roots to a bigger home at the Showboat Casino on the boardwalk). This con is all about the fans and their love of anime/animation and gaming. This year there’ll also be workshops on voice acting for cartoons, and gaming competitions (including Yu-Gi-Oh!) For more info on the show schedule, check the official website for details. Most importantly it’s a fan-friendly event and very affordable for geeky families.
And always remember: traditional Manga reads from right-to-left.
Kaleidocast Podcast – Here’s the deal: Kaleidocast broadcasts out of New York; they put on radio plays of cutting edge short stories, some by authors you know (NK Jemisin), some you might not. Thing is, they put these plays on as part of a tongue-in-cheek hypermeta arc in which stories and reality constantly intermingle. This podcast is Project A-KO for your ears, full of geek humor, interesting takes on familiar ideas, and a definite undercurrent of coolness. Give a listen!
Basajaun – “Basajaun” means “Lord of the forest” from Basque mythology, and when hasn’t a magical forest appealed to the gentler side of anime? Actually, that’s one of the great things about anime: it embraces its quieter side and loves celebrating a sense of wonder. Basajaun by Toby Wilde (but look for it under the name Rosemary Van Deuren) fits right in there, with a young spunky protagonist, an odious villain, and magical rabbits who teach the protagonist—and us—about appreciating the finer things in life, such as a good cheese. I had a constant smile on my face while reading this book, same as when I first saw Howl’s Moving Castle. Get your Miyazaki-feel on with this one!
Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies – Maybe I’ve shared this before, but seriously?! The title alone qualifies this wild book for a second ride. This one’s like Scott Pilgrim Versus The World run through Kill Bill after bingeing on all the classic action anime you could get your hands on! Author James Marshall wrote something that is described thusly:
“In a world where ZOMBIES control banks and governments, only one young man sees the way things are and emerges from the CHAOS and destruction: GUY BOY MAN. While he tries to end human suffering worldwide and in his high school, Guy Boy Man meets a cute PINK-HAIRED girl named BABY DOLL15 who has a UNICORN that follows her everywhere.”
Another – Sometimes anime is like entering a spooky funhouse. The cover alone is worth the price of admission for this one. Writer Yukito Ayatsuji, known for mystery, fantasy, horror, and a love of noir, positioned this 2-book series as “school is murder” in the most literal way. The new kid in school not only has to navigate all the obstacles, pitfalls, and dangers that come with that dreaded status, but also has to solve a few murders within the school…of fellow students…by a vengeful ghost, but as a top-notch mystery novel, I haven’t even begun to give you clues! (The best mystery is always “What’s the mystery??”, and when you see it come together—even when you think you’ve been given the ending—it’s all Ahhhh. You can also check out the films here.