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Sunday, February 29, 2004

READING KANJI

A couple of days ago, I remarked that the bilingual edition of Fruits Basket left out the furigana from the kanji in the Japanese text. But I should point out that, even for a novice reader of Japanese, there's no reason to be scared of kanji without furigana. True, a kanji dictionary (or "character dictionary," as is the more usual term) isn't as straightforward to use as a regular Japanese-English dictionary. But NTC's New Japanese-English Character Dictionary and Mark Spahn and Wolfgang Hadamitzky's Japanese Character Dictionary are both good character dictionaries and fairly easy to use. (The former is simpler for beginners, while the latter is more convenient once you have some experience, and more comprehensive; I haven't used Nelson's, the other major character dictionary, so I can't comment on it.) And once you've learned how to use a character dictionary, looking kanji up poses no particular problems, though it does slow you down. The feature of written Japanese that really makes reading difficult is its failure to put spaces between words, but furigana doesn't help with that.

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Saturday, February 28, 2004

MANGA BY THE TRUCKLOAD

For most of the past week I was in the San Francisco Bay area, and during that time I managed (thanks to my brother, who drove me) to visit the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya in San Francisco's Japantown. This store is quite a bit larger than the Asahiya in suburban Chicago, which is the only new Japanese bookstore I have semi-regular access to, and its manga section is several times larger. In particular, while the Chicago Asahiya has very little manga aimed at adults (by which I don't mean porn), the SF Kinokuniya has quite a bit, though it's still only a small proportion of all the manga they have. I wound up spending over $180 (before sales tax), which got me sixteen volumes. The next day I visited Moe's, a large used bookstore in Berkeley; they had some Japanese-language manga, though not a lot, and I picked up a few volumes there. So I'll have a lot to report on in the next few days or weeks.

BILINGUAL FRUITS BASKET MANGA

I always feel a bit bad when I discover that someone's come to my blog pursuing a search which I know my blog won't help with. This happened a few days ago when someone was looking for Fruits Basket Kodansha bilingual manga: I'd talked about Fruits Basket, and about Kodansha bilingual manga, but not about the two together. Well, there is no Fruits Basket Kodansha bilingual manga, because Fruits Basket in Japan is published not by Kodansha, but by Hakusensha. But one of my SF purchases, vol. 13 of the Japanese Fruits Basket (yay!) has an ad for a bilingual edition of Fruits Basket vol. 1, which they call Eigoban (English-language edition) Furuutsu Basuketto. I didn't see the book, but the ad showed a sample page. As with the Kodansha bilinguals, this edition is intended for Japanese speakers who want to learn English, and has English text in the balloons and captions, with the original Japanese printed in the margins. There are a couple of other features which would be useful to Japanese speakers, but less so to English speakers trying to learn Japanese, or simply wanting to read Fruits Basket. I'm dubious about the quality of the translation, though I can hardly pretend to be an expert: the second half of the caption on top of page seven, "minna to tanoshiku itsumademo," is translated as "and may everyone get along with each other forever," though in this context I would think that "having fun with everybody" is a more likely translation of "minna to tanoshiku". (For comparison's sake, Tokyopop translates this phrase as "This is where the fun begins," though I wouldn't take that as authoritative either.) Also note that whereas in the original Japanese edition all the kanji have furigana (small kana at the side showing the pronunciation), these are stripped from the Japanese text in the bilingual edition.

The ad gives the price as 924 yen (over twice the price of the regular Japanese edition). I don't have the ISBN, but here's the publisher's website, if you want to try searching there.

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Friday, February 27, 2004

DEBATING SUPERHEROES

On the Comics Journal message board, a heated debate is currently underway over whether TCJ should publish more scholarly analyses of superhero comics (via Dave Fiore). Amidst the usual pro- and anti-superhero invective (more accurately, anti-superhero and anti-anti-superhero), there are a few interesting posts on both sides. I've also contributed a few posts, under my real name of Adam Stephanides (you have to go to p. 5 to see them).

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Monday, February 23, 2004

THE PENULTIMATE WORD ON SUPERHEROES

I haven't said anything about superheroes in my blog so far, and I don't intend to say very much about them, because they hold very little interest for me. Now I have another reason not to say much about them: because Tim O'Neil has just said most of what I would have wanted to say. (Permalinks apparently not working; it's the first item under Sunday, February 22nd.)

Sorry for the lack of updates, by the way. I've been busy these past few days, and have had little time to write (a state that will continue for a few days more).

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

MANGA MARCHES ON, AND OTHER TIDBITS

I was at my local Borders today, browsing the manga section to see if there was anything new and interesting out. I didn't buy any manga, but I made a few observations.

1) Manga (and manhwa, its Korean counterpart) is continuing to expand at the expense of Western comics. A few weeks ago manga, which already occupied more than half the total space in the graphic novel section, took over two-and-a-half shelves from Western comics. Today another shelf which had been occupied by Western comics was empty, and it's not hard to guess what will occupy it. Apparently in some chain bookstores the graphic novel section consists entirely of manga. My Borders isn't close to that point yet, but it's getting nearer.

2) The first volume of the Fruits Basket manga from Tokyopop is out. I didn't buy it, so I couldn't make a side-by-side comparison with the Japanese edition, but from looking at it in the store it appears that Tokyopop did as lousy a job of reproducing the art as they did on vols. 2-4 of Kare Kano (that's when I stopped buying it). I've been intending for a while to write a post on reasons to read manga in the original Japanese; Tokyopop's editions of Fruits Basket and Kare Kano are good reasons in themselves (but far from the only reasons).

3) I own the Japanese vol. 2 of CLAMP's manga Suki dakara suki (I love you because I love you), and there's a fan translation of it on the web. Reading it, I concluded that the main character is the most idiotic heroine in all manga and anime, not excepting Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi. Now Tokyopop has come out with its edition of vol.1, which it calls simply Suki; and browsing through it confirmed this belief. (Incidentally, I don't understand the point of Tokyopop's title change. If they're going to keep the title in Japanese, why not keep the original title? If they're going to change the title, why not change it to one most readers will understand?)

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WEBMANGA: BOU

I should have posted this a long time ago, but better late than never: here's "Bou" (pronounced to rhyme with "glow"; in romanized Japanese, "ou," "oo," "oh," and "o" with a horizontal line above it are all pronounced as a long "oh" sound), an amazing webmanga by Shintani Naritada (via iJournalista!).

And here's a translation by yours truly, courtesy again of iJournalista! (The permalinks don't seem to be working; scroll down to April 9.)

Shintani's site as a whole, Electric Gublla, is also well worth exploring. There are more manga (quite different in tone from "Bou," though), and a bunch of four-panel gag strips with English translations (apparently computer-generated), which are good examples of the absurdist gag strip which I've mentioned before as an important manga genre. And here's a brief interview with Shintani.

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Sunday, February 15, 2004

ON MANGA

I own a number of the Japanese manga anthology magazines. Since I bought them all on sale, they're mostly not first-tier magazines, although I do own an issue apiece of Shounen Jump and Shounen Ace. I was looking over some of them last night, and I was reminded that although it's far from true that all the good manga have already been published here, it is true that the manga we see here aren't an unbiased sample. A lot of manga is as uninteresting visually, and appears to be as hacked-out, as the most mediocre superhero comic from Marvel or DC. I would still tentatively assert, though, that the average level of craft is higher in manga. And of course so much more manga is produced that even if the proportion of good stuff were identical, there'd still be a lot more good manga in absolute terms.

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Saturday, February 14, 2004

Though this blog is partly about comics, I don't intend to cover "current events" in the comics field. In this one case I'm making an exception, though: Gary Groth has fired Milo George as editor of The Comics Journal, replacing him with Dirk Deppey, who is consequently putting his blog iJournalista! on temporary hiatus. I don't know why Milo was fired, but for more details on iJournalista!'s fate, see here.

This news came as a shock to me. I had no idea there was any friction between Milo and Gary (not that I'm any kind of insider). Milo put out a good magazine; though I don't know of anybody better qualified to replace him than Dirk. But the loss of iJournalista!, even temporarily, will be keenly felt. Not only did Dirk keep track of news related to comics and cartooning, he was (and will be again, hopefully) a trusty guide to the best of the comics blogosphere, and added his own intelligent viewpoint.

I feel a bit of a personal connection to this story, since both Milo and Dirk have helped me with my "career," such as it is. Milo wasn't the first editor to publish my work, but he was the first paying editor to do so. Dirk was the first to link to this blog, afaik, and is responsible for most of what traffic I get; and his interest in my reviews/descriptions of Japanese-language manga encouraged me to keep doing them. The best of luck to both of them.

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

ALL THE ERRORS BY GIORGIO MANGANELLI

I recently finished reading All the Errors, a collection of stories by the Italian author Giorgio Manganelli, translated by Henry Martin. It's a very strange book: a bit like Calvino, a bit like Kafka at his most enigmatic, but more abstract than either. "System," the best story in the book--though "story" may be a misnomer--is also the most abstract, describing a system made up of a number of entities, none of which are human or human-like in behavior. Nor is the story an allegory, as far as I can see. It's virtually a self-enclosed system of meanings with no connection to the real world, and yet it has a logic and fascination of its own. Here are its opening sentences:

"The system consists firstly of the Fires, which, numbering from two to seven, inhabit, pervade, and characterize the central space; hence, they are also known as Essences. The Fires or Essences are bound to no necessitated movements; indifferently, they sometimes travel with regularity, not rarely in circles, at other times in accordance with irregular and unpredictable patterns, and often they remain in total immobility. The Essences are distinguished by no established or definite form; their noetic model would seem to be the sphere, though none display that attitude precisely, deviating into various flaws: there are Essences flattened at the poles, or oblong, or roundish but jaggedly pitted, and some are even so artfully deformed as to make them seem plagued by some type of infirmity." (99)

The story continues for twenty-nine pages in this mode. "Lovers," an even longer "story," consists of a series of independent vignettes which subject human relationships to the same sort of fantastic elaboration as Manganelli applies to his imaginary system in "System." The book is difficult reading--though not "accessible only to the experts," whatever that's supposed to mean, as the Library Journal review on amazon.com asserts--and I confess that even with a good will I was unable to read more than a few pages at a time. But if you're interested in experimental fiction, you should definitely give this a try.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

CLASSIC PUNK BOOTLEGS

There's a bootleg label called Punk Vault which has released a number of CDs by well-known 70s punk bands. Recently I've been listening to a 2-CD set by them entitled Midnight Express at Scene on the Green, which records an August 29, 1976 concert by the Buzzcocks, Clash, and Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols are very good here, despite what Roger Armstrong says in the liner notes--they had a leaner, less heavy-metalish sound live than they did on Never Mind the Bollocks--but if you've already heard them live from around this period there won't be any surprises. The Clash, playing their first public gig (though the 101's, the band they evolved out of, had been around for a while), come across as a good "power pop" band (though the term hadn't been coined yet, afaik), though lacking the explosiveness of their first album. But to me the revelation on this set was the Buzzcocks, here with Howard Devoto still in the band. I may have heard their first album, but I don't remember for sure; I have heard their highly acclaimed Spiral Scratch EP, which didn't make much of an impression on me. But this performance makes me want to give it another listen. Good songs, though not as good as the Pistols'; a band that rocks hard; and, on "Friends of Mine," "I Can't Control Myself," and "I Love You You Big Dummy/Don't Mess Around," amazing dissonant guitar solos from Pete Shelley, which anticipate Lydia Lunch's guitar in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. (And yes, that is indeed the Capt. Beefheart song, but they don't sound anything like the Magic Band.)

Another Punk Vault disc I have is Poor Circulation by Television, a collection of rehearsals, demos, and live tracks from 1974 and Jan. 1975, with Richard Hell on bass. There are eighteen or nineteen cuts here (depending on which pressing you own), only two of have appeared on legit Television records afaik, and most of which I've never even seen bootlegged anywhere else. Listening to this, it's clear that they really did play "punk rock": not in the sense of sounding like the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, a standard that obviously didn't exist then, but in the sense of being deliberately unpolished, even crude. To be honest, by and large the music isn't very good, though it would undoubtedly have sounded revolutionary in 1974. But as a document of the early CBGB's scene, this disc is invaluable.

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CROOKED TIMBER

I've added Crooked Timber to my blogroll. This is a group blog with a lot of interesting material on philosophy, public policy, and U.S. and U.K. politics.

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Monday, February 09, 2004

THE MANGA CORNER: MR. XIE'S NIGHT WALK

One of my pet peeves is the claim frequently made by fans of American comics that "all manga look the same." In the first place, while it's unquestionably true that much manga shares certain stylistic traits which to Western eyes are quite distinctive (the "big eyes, small mouths" look), even within these bounds there's room for a great deal of variation, as a clear-eyed look at the titles on American shelves makes apparent. I would guess that for Japanese readers, who have grown up with this style, manga artists' styles are as individual as superhero artists' styles are to superhero fans.

In the second place, there are plenty of manga which aren't in the "big eyes, small mouths" tradition at all. While examples of this have been published in the U.S., the subject of today's manga corner, Kushii-kun no yoru no sanpo (Mr. Xie's Night Walk) by Kamosawa Yuji is a particularly good example: it's an obvious and successful attempt to mimic the European clear-line style of Herge, Swarte, et al., which would seem as far from the "big eyes, small mouths" style as you can get. There's even a dog that's a dead ringer for Snowy. However, the short stories in this collection are not adventures like Tintin's but whimsical fantasy, with characters who live in a house shaped like a coffeepot, meet Santa Claus, ride in a scooter shaped like a duck, and are driven off the road by a shooting star (drawn with five points). On the other hand, several of Kamosawa's protagonists are boys, about ten or eleven years old, who smoke cigarettes. I'm not sure what to make of that. Only about forty pages of this 120-page book are comics per se; the rest are mainly illustrated text pieces in the same style. Four full-color, cryptic, slightly disturbing paintings open the book.

The book is part of a line called "Kawade Personal Comics," which seems to be a Fantagraphics-type operation publishing less commercial works by a variety of artists. (I have a couple of the other books in this line, which I'll get around to describing one day.) It's 118 pages long, and costs 880 yen, which is expensive compared to most Japanese manga, though not to American graphic novels. But it's printed on good paper, is about 6 1/2 by 8 1/4 in dimension (larger than most Japanese manga paperbacks), and is a visually attractive package all round. The publisher's actual name is Kawade Shobohshinsha, and the ISBN is 4-309-72503-1. Here's the book's page on www.amazon.co.jp, for those who can read Japanese. And here's a website devoted to Kamosawa, including a page showing the covers of his books (Midnight Walk is second from the top) and an image gallery.

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Sunday, February 08, 2004

WHO NEEDS IT?

I recently checked the Who's "best" album, Who's Next, out of my local public library, and listened to it a couple of times. Of course, I'd heard the better-known songs on it many times before. And I have to ask: why is this album so acclaimed? To me, it represents the triumph of rock music as Important Statement over the vision of rock music as pop art which had informed Townshend's work through The Who Sell Out (Tommy being an attempt to combine these two approaches). And this Significance was apparently incompatible with such frivolous things as hooks: musically, it's a dull album. As for its "revolutionary" use of synthesizers, it may not have used them to imitate an orchestra, but the way it did use them was no more appropriate to rock. I'll grant that "Won't Get Fooled Again" is a good song, though inferior to most of the songs on Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy. But it's eight minutes long, and the instrumental parts are wastes of disc space.

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Thursday, February 05, 2004

READING MATTER

An excellent post by Juan Cole on Israel and the Palestinians, and why Muslims might reasonably be more upset by Israel's treatment of the Palestinians than by other current instances of Muslims being mistreated.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

THE MANGA CORNER: GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES

Multi-creator manga anthologies in book (as opposed to magazine) form are rare in Japan, as far as I'm aware, but they do exist, and today's manga (which again I have not read) is one of them: Sekai-ichi zankoku de utsukushii Gurimu douwa (Grimm's fairy tales, the cruellest and most beautiful in the world). It's just what the title implies, a collection of fairy tales told in manga form, including both familiar tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood (though these aren't all from Grimm, iirc) and less familiar tales, including a couple I don't recognize at all. The art in all the stories is shoujo in style, though ranging from rather plain to full baroque splendor. I don't recognize any of the artists' names, but they all display a high level of craft, much higher than the average level of the anthology magazines I've seen; and also higher than I'd expect to find in a comparable American anthology, whether "mainstream" or independent. To my eyes, the artistic standout is Hashimoto Noji, whose "Kaeru no Oojisama" (Frog Prince) effectively deploys a variety of textures, and also dares to feature a rather unattractive heroine.

As far as I can tell without having read the stories, these are for the most part straightforward retellings, though several of the artists have played up the violence--Kotokawa Aya's "Haikaburi" (Cinderella) graphically depicts both the stepsister cutting off her toes to be able to fit into the slipper and the birds pecking out her eyes at the end, two details omitted from most modern renditions--and/or the sexuality--in Sakamoto Mimei's "Rapunzel," the prince first catches sight of Rapunzel masturbating in her tower window--implicit or explicit in the original tales. At the end of the book is a brief scholarly bibliography.

The full list of artists is Kotokawa Aya, Hibiki Naomi, Matsuyama Hanako, Kasuga Mio, Hashimoto Noji, Fukuzato Satsuki, Takeuchi Kumiko, Sagami Takayoshi, Sakamoto Mimei, Miike Romuko and Fuse Naoko. It's 344 pp., its price is 648 yen, its publisher is Shueisha and the ISBN is 4-8342-7239-7.

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Sunday, February 01, 2004

WAS THE WAR IN IRAQ JUSTIFIABLE ON HUMANITARIAN GROUNDS?

I just came across two items which together bring some light to an issue on which there's been a lot of overheated rhetoric: whether the War in Iraq was justifiable on humanitarian grounds. Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch (via Juan Cole) argues that it was not. He makes several points, but the most important ones are that wars of humanitarian intervention are only justified to stop ongoing mass murder, or to prevent future mass murders if such murders are imminent, and that neither of these was the case in Iraq in March 2003. Though Saddam had committed mass murder in the past, punishing rulers for past crimes is not in itself sufficient grounds for humanitarian interventions. Juan Cole disagrees, arguing that there should be no statute of limitations on mass murder, and in any case Saddam's campaign against the Marsh Arabs constituted a "recent and ongoing" genocide. Cole is strongly opposed to the way Bush went about it, though, arguing that he should have applied to the Security Council to have Saddam removed "on the basis of egregious violations of the UN Convention on Genocide." (Implicit in Cole's statements is that Bush should then have abided by the Council's decision, though Cole doesn't explicitly say so.)

Me, I'm still undecided. On the question of the Marsh Arabs, I simply don't know the facts. On the question of principle, I can see arguments for both sides. I'm more inclined to go with Roth, though: in an ideal world I would love to see rulers be held accountable for their past crimes, but in the world we live in I suspect this would simply provide a rationale for removing regimes we don't like, bringing the concept of human rights into disrepute. But read both items.

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