Manga Ketchup

*Several sources are reporting on a rather interesting turn of events concerning that 20th Century Boys news I mentioned the other day. Apparently the ‘ending’ is not a firm ending, as the book appears to really be going on hiatus until Spring of 2007. Writer/artist Naoki Urasawa makes reference in a note accompanying the newest chapter to a desire to “disappear for a while.” This post at ComiPress posts spoilers (which I’ve not read) and some theories as to what’s going on, making reference to fan ‘outrage.’ Some are reading this as some type of prank on the readership, while others see it as a sign of Urasawa conceding that he’s losing track of the plot. Some suspect he’s abandoning the work altogether, and that his editors are scrambling to cover. Or maybe he’s just trying to focus on Pluto, striking while the iron is hot. I have to wonder if maybe he’s simply getting burned out on, well, working on 20th Century Boys for 22 volumes, and needs a break from the grind.

This isn’t an unprecedented act, after all - in 1995, Yukito Kishiro brought his sci-fi series GUNNM: Hyper Future Vision (aka: Battle Angel Alita) to an abrupt ‘end,’ allegedly due to concerns regarding his personal health. Years later, he essentially asked his readers to disregard the last few pages of the series’ final volume, then picked the story up where he left off under the new title of GUNNM: The Last Order, still ongoing to this day (and out in English as Battle Angel Alita: The Last Order). Takehiko Inoue of Vagabond is also somewhat famous among fans for his tendency to take breaks from working on his series, returning at later dates. Plus, I have to presume that Pluto will continue, given that there’s no word on that series being halted too, so it’s not like Urasawa is simply vanishing from comics. Just yet.

Anne Freaks Vol. 1 (of 4)

Speaking of manga and not getting around to things, you might recall me having spent portions of a few older posts talking about my anticipation for the Yua Kotegawa manga Anne Freaks, a 4-book series from ADV. Well, I finally got around to buying a copy, and gosh were my hopes misplaced - Anne Freaks is a thuddingly mediocre book, uninspiring suspense action clumsily dressed in the costume of transgression. I posted a bit about it on another site, and I really don’t think I need to go into it much further:

Anne Freaks Vol. 1 (of 4): On shelves from ADV. I was looking forward to this one but wow did I not like it at all. Uninteresting cute teen girl assassin recruits a shy nerdy boy and a hot-blooded youth into her battle against Terrorists in Scary Masks (not their real name). The 'twist,' I guess, is that the nerdy boy recently killed his crazy mom, so every so often we get ponderous 'I am a murderer too, oh woe!' moody bits, plus gratingly schematic wacky comedy. Also, the cute teen girl assassin might be more than she appears, but I don't think anyone didn't expect that going in. The stiff, anime-ready art is just the cherry on top. Avoid.”

Concise, that. Actually, I maybe don’t quite do justice to the theme of ‘gasp, murder!’ as it’s forwarded by the book, since it's not just shy guy that's involved. The hot-blooded youth also gets into it, killing his first man out of revenge for his dead family. Naturally the uninteresting cute teen girl assassin eggs the two of her charges on, whilst committing the extra, unnecessary slaughter of witnesses on the side, and engaging in (yay!) torture. There’s a little Moral Ambiguity 101 work done with the possibility that maybe the boys are on the wrong side, or that perhaps there is no ‘right’ side, but lord knows there’s nothing compelling done with it. I’m guessing we’ll eventually be heading down the ‘forced into more and more questionable killings’ path with the fellers, since the stuff they pull in this volume isn’t all that shocking, really, unless Kotegawa is playing unreliable narrator games with us - that’s a possibility.

I should also expand a bit on my thoughts as to the visuals, since I don’t think ‘anime-ready’ necessarily equates to ‘stiff’ all the time; Kiyohiko Azuma of Yotsuba&! employs a very slick, rounded, animation-ready style, yet he manages to keep everything flowing nicely. But Kotegawa’s visual work seems inert, all of the attention focused on pretty, if sometimes disconcertingly broad-shouldered character designs. The opening of the first chapter in particular is poorly staged, with no time spent at all establishing a sense of environment, making cute teen killer’s entrance clash with the prior page's fantasy bits - it's not a compellingly surreal feeling the reader gets, only jumbled irritation. At times, Kotegawa's character art barely seems to be occupying the same space as everything else. Take a look at that panel of the legs of the witness' corpse near the end of Chapter (excuse me, Fabel) 01 - they seem to be floating above the floor more than anything.

So yeah, don't get this. The whole thing felt a bit reminiscent of a below-average Warren Ellis book, really, with moral questions and ideas flanked by too-dangerous, too-violent questionable heroes, and everything washed away by action scenes in the end. And uh oh! Is that a little ‘audience complicity’ argumentation I smell?

We made a game out of whether people lived or died. And we enjoyed it. What an awful thing to do.”

Jesus Christ, it’s bad enough I’m reminded of Jack Cross - I don’t also need to be told that my terrible impulses for vicariously savoring violent death have been laid bare, yet again. No, that trick only works if I’m enjoying what I’m seeing, and Anne Freaks just isn’t good enough to hit that level of effectiveness. It’s just more lazy posturing, and I’m not sticking around for the possibility of another 600 pages of that.