Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Manic About Manga's Best of 2009

Wow! I'm really waiting until the end of the year to get my Best of the Year list done. I didn't do one last year because I like to be contrary and not follow the crowd. But I thought that this year I'd be wild and crazy and compile a list, but my list is just a bit different. How is it different you ask? Most lists contain ten titles but mine has nine (pfft! big deal right?), the way I chose the titles is more along the lines of either "This title was much better than I thought" or "I think I need to read the second volume before I decide" and then found myself sucked in. The final reason this one is different is I haven't ranked them. You'll see that several of the titles are yaoi because that is a large portion of what I read. Where my review is available I'll provide the link and feel free to share any thoughts in the comments section.

Love Machine – Amayo Tsuge, published by Deux Press
Kokuyo is a workaholic. He's constantly in and out of the hospital due to exhaustion. He has no family and only one friend, Seiki. Since Seiki is the one who has to pick Kokuyo up from the hospital he dreams up a grand scheme. You see Seiki works for a company that develops androids and feels that their newest model, ETOWA (Every Time Only With Affection) would be a great improvement for Kokuyo. Kokuyo has always lived alone and thinks only of himself. He's not happy with the idea but he gives in and welcomes Shiro into his home. Shiro is clumsy and adorable but will he be able to warm up Kokuyo?
In the past I was always squeamish with the whole android/human pairing but thanks to Dany&Dany's Anima I was able to set aside some of that uncomfortableness and read it without too many issues. I found myself immediately engrossed in the story and drawn to the interesting interpersonal relationships between not only the humans and androids but also the relationships that develop with the androids. There were even a couple times I found myself bawling my eyes out. Not only is the story interesting but the art is totally adorable and you can't help but falling for Shiro's adorable clumsiness!

Love Full of Scars – Psyche Delico, published by NETCOMICS
Love Full of Scars explores the boundaries of the yaoi genre. Yoko is a heartthrob reputed to have quite the technique in the bedroom. One day Yoko comes to school covered in bandages, and fellow student Yukio vows to protect him. But does he really know what he's getting himself into? In another story, Ishimoto discovers that he and his driver's ed. instructor share the same passion for an old action hero cartoon. It seems, though, that their unexpected common interests might be leading them to an entirely different kind of passion. In a tale of forbidden love, Fumi is quite taken with the handsome man his brother has become while studying abroad, perhaps even a little too taken. In a different type of high school romance, Kanda falls secretly in love with a fellow thug he beats up on a daily basis. Will the two be able to overcome their bad habits to become a couple? And what will happen when Kanda's older brother, who just so happens to be a queen, finds out about their relationship? The stories in Love Full of Scars tell of both the physical and emotional marks tough love can leave on a person. (Description from Akadot Retail)
I normally like to write my own synopses but in the case of Love Full of Scars this synopsis is one of the reasons it is on this list. The second reason it's on the list is because it is one of the best yaoi titles I've read this year. This description describes some other title. Love Full of Scars is HILARIOUS! Each story is unique, charming, and funny. This is not your typical yaoi title in the way it takes the usual yaoi plot devices and turns them on their heads. What I mean is there aren't many pretty boys and the uke/seme stereotype is completely thrown out of the window. I think sensei has a thing for facial hair because each story has a man with facial hair (with the exception of the final story dealing with a drag queen). I get somewhat tired of one shot anthologies but it was so worth picking up this title. You get gay thugs, action figures found in a somewhat questionable position, and a pretty boy who loves hairy men. With the above description this is a title that I had originally passed over but decided that I'd check it out at the NETCOMICS website. I knew after the first chapter that this was a title that I was going to have to purchase. This is not only one of the best titles of the year but has made it onto my favorite titles of all time list.

Oishinbo A la Carte – Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, published by VIZ Signature
To celebrate Tozai News being around for 100 years it has been decided that there would be a column dedicated to the Supreme Menu, food items that are truly represent Japanese cuisine and culture. Placed in charge of this task is Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita. It turns out that Shiro is the estranged son of famous ceramist and gourmet Kaibara Yuzan. The father and son don't get along and their opinions about who should be able to enjoy gourmet food vary wildly. In between the story of Shiro and Kaibara we get a glimpse into Japanese culture through the food.
Like I said in my review, who knew that a manga about food could be an entertaining read. But I was pleasantly surprised to find this manga so enjoyable. You get a personal story because of the relationships between the characters, an introduction to Japanese culture through their food, and it all plays very well together. A worthy read indeed!

Dog x Cat – Yoshimi Amasaki, published by 801 Media
All Atsu ever wanted was a dog but living in an apartment made it impossible, at least until he met Junya. Junya on the other hand has only wanted Atsu. These two are the same age, grew up together, and are very close. When Junya tells Atsu that he loves him in the way that he wants to have sex with him. Atsu has no idea what to do and if he feels the same way. When Atsu realizes that not only is Junya important to him he realizes that he wants Junya the same way.
When this title was announced at AX in 2008 I really couldn't find out much about this title. I figured that this would be your usual PWP yaoi title with little story and lots of sex (PWP meaning Plot? What Plot?). Yes it's what you would expect from 801 Media but I found myself loving this title much more than I thought. It's funny, and I mean really funny. Amasaki-sensei weaves the dog and cat theme throughout especially with Atsu and his catlike personality. The last two chapters are a bit serious and seem a bit out of place but I find that the way it is handled makes it much more important because when you get rape (sorry I gave it away) in yaoi its generally dealt with differently where in this case Atsu was much more empowered. Dog x Cat was definitely a surprise hit for me!

Ze – Yuki Shimizu, Published by 801 Media
Raizou has no where to go now that his grandmother has passed away. Thanks to the help of the mysterious Genma he is sent into the Mitou home. He's given room and board in exchange for taking care of the cooking, cleaning, and general household upkeep. But there's something strange about the Mitou's. It seems that they are Kotodamashi (spell casters) and use Kamisama (living paper dolls who have the ability to heal their Kotodamashi). But there is one Kamisama who seems to be without a Kotodama, and that would be Kon. Kon is Raizou's roommate and was the one originally taking care of the house. Now that Raizou is there what will Kon do?
Ze is a series that is still ongoing in Japan and is one of the titles that I had to read volume two to truly decide that this is actually an amazing series. The first volume is somewhat confusing because we are thrown a whole bunch of characters and a somewhat foreign idea. But there is something about Shimizu-sensei's art that keeps you interested and pushed me to read the second volume. Of course with the continuing of the series we meet more characters including the mysterious Genma and a possible connection between Raizou and Genma and things are explained more. But to me the main thing that kept me is the presence of Asari. He's one of the Mitou family Kamisama and is visually stunning. For anyone who knows me know that I find Shiuko Kano's representation of men the finest out there and Asari rivals many of them. I know that's a dumb reason but if the art is good enough to at least keep me interested then chances are I'll continue, that and my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. In the case of Ze it's definitely worth continuing after you get past the first volume of confusion.

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei – Koji Kumeta, published by Del Rey
Nozomu Itoshiki is a middle school teacher and only has one goal in life… to die. But he seems to be rather unsuccessful at it. He has quite the interesting class and he's not above using interesting teaching methods like telling his students not to worry about aiming high. He's a socialist at heart and seems to have an air of apathy around him but he cares for his students regardless.
I never had any intention of reading this title. Whenever there is something highly praised I usually run the other way from because I generally wind up disappointed (there are a few exceptions). I wound up offering to review it despite my dislike of all things popular and found a funny, biting manga that definitely made me laugh, and laugh hard. As the series has continued I find myself laughing at all of the hijinks that Itoshiki-sensei finds himself in. I've been letting a coworker of mine borrow this series and I've got her hooked as well. Whether it's Kafuka (one of sensei's students and super positive) inviting Admiral Perry into class to celebrate the opening of Japan (where he then insists on opening up everything be it books) to not celebrating Sensei's birthday because he knows he was conceived on Christmas Eve (the majority of the Japanese people aren't Christians and Christmas Eve is spent like Valentine's Day). This is a great series and I'm glad I got over myself to pick it up!

Merry Family Plan – Sumitomo Morozumi, published by NETCOMICS
Merry Family Plan is Morozumi-sensei's first manga. It is a collection of one-shots that feature a story of a high school boy that can't seem to keep his girlfriends because he doesn't seem to fully invest himself into his relationships. Until he meets the new male student in class. A quick tale of a guy who has a mask fetish thanks to his dentist. There's a story about two lovers who can't seem to be able to move their relationship forward. Another tale is one of two lovers who haven’t been able move forward in their relationship because they can't decide who is going to be the bottom and who is going to be the top. The final story is about a pilot who doesn't really want to be a pilot and then becomes possessed by a spirit who has a uniform fetish.
OK, so the above description stinks but it's hard to describe one-shot collections. I knew very little about this title and things I was reading about it was not very popular. Sometimes though titles that aren’t very popular can be rather good (at least in my opinion). I decided to give it a chance and found myself pleasantly surprised. You can tell that this is a first attempt for this mangaka because the art isn’t as polished. Story wise I found it enjoyable and I see a lot of potential. There was one section where one of her characters was in a thought spiral and portrayed this thinking with a visual of a merry-go-round. I caught myself thinking "How clever!" I was very surprised that I enjoyed this manga even though the characters looked rather young. I hope that Morozumi-sensei will continue to hone her (I assume) skills and we will be able to read them in English!

Cut – Toko Kawai, Published by Juné
Chiaki is gorgeous and popular but hides a deep secret. Eiji is quiet and doesn't seem to draw attention to himself. He hides a secret as well. These two young men find themselves drawn to each other. Chiaki is being sexually abused by his stepfather and Eiji's mother was crazy and tried to get rid of him by attacking him, neglecting him, etc. What these two young men find in each other is something that they need and soon begin a relationship. With them both of them hiding physical as well as emotional scars can they continue a healthy relationship?
Mental illness and abuse is always a touchy subject with me, knowing first hand what it's like (the mental illness part at least). You can't go wrong with Toko Kawai, but knowing that this was going to be an emotional read for me I had to proceed with caution. What I found was a truly amazing tale of hope, optimism, and love. I generally don't talk to my mom about yaoi titles I've read but in the case of Cut I had to bring it up because it was so poignant (I just left out the m/m and sex factors when we talked). I was moved beyond words by the way Kawai-sensei presented this story, especially the way she told of Eiji's past. I am so glad that Juné licensed this title because not only has this made my top of 2009 list but is also on my top manga titles of all time!

20th Century Boys – Naoki Urasawa, published by VIZ Signature
Kenji had a big imagination as a kid and had visions of greatness. Now he's the owner of a local convenience store, living with his mom and raising his niece that his sister basically abandoned. You'd think life would be boring but there's something going on and Kenji is going to have to save the day. Who knew that his big imagination and the death of a childhood friend was going to change his life forever. It seems that there is a big threat looming on the horizon and it is all based on a story created by Kenji and his friends one summer in the 60's.
I hadn't really thought much of reading anything by Urasawa-sensei until I asked readers to give me suggestions on non-yaoi authors and titles that I should check out. As it happens Urasawa-sensei was mentioned by a couple people so when the opportunity to get a review copy presented itself I jumped on the chance (sad thing is I haven't gotten it reviewed yet). This is another title that I didn't know if I was going to be continue reading until I read the second volume. I was a bit confused and generally action and sci-fi type stories just aren't my thing but I was hooked by the second volume. It tells a story that spans decades and jumps between Kenji's childhood and Kenji's current life. I can now see why Urasawa-sensei is so popular. He is a very gifted storyteller. I have really enjoyed reading 20th Century Boys and I give thanks to the readers who suggested I give Urasawa-sensei a shot!

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