Josh’s Manga Roundup: Akira, Jojo, Uzumaki, and Ranma 1/2

Aside from video games, my experiences with Japanese pop culture recently have centred around manga; picking up drawing as a hobby has led to a renewed interest in the sequential art of both east and west. In light of that, I intend to give a round-up of some of the noteworthy manga I’ve dipped my toe into as of late.

Akira (by Katsuhiro Otomo)

Otomo’s legendary manga has long been one of those things that I’ve always intended to read and always have put off, intimidated by the rather hefty size of its volumes. But when I did, I tore through the first two very quickly. Akira’s story of post-apocalyptic Japan where a juvenile delinquent becomes the guinea pig of shadowy government figures seeking to exploit his latent psychic powers (among other things) is well-known to a lot of otaku through its movie adaptation. The manga offers a more lucid, fleshed out counterpoint to the movie’s fever dream. But there’s another reason for those thick volumes: Otomo loves drawing action in an almost slow-motion manner. Something which another artist would cover in a single page is often stretched out to several here. The result is a rich, detailed feeling which feels unique to Otomo’s work.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki

True to its name, I have trouble placing this manga. It’s a seemingly campy shounen battle manga that has been mashed up with some over-the-top gruesome horror, and the result almost always feels tonally off to me. Araki’s, how shall we say, “interesting” interpretations of the human body in his character designs doesn’t help either. Anyway, JoJo tells the generational story of the Joestar family’s battle against the forces of evil (vampires, zombies and other sundry undeads), with each story arc featuring a new titular JoJo to do all the punching. Having read up to partway through the second arc, all I can muster is a shrug. Then again, the manga is most well-known for its third arc, so it may be that if I hold out until then it’ll finally click.

 

Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Here’s where things get really weird. Uzumaki is a horror story about a town that has become cursed by…spirals. It unfolds in a largely episodic manner, with each chapter doing a variation on the the theme, whether it be people turning into snails or evil curly hair. At times its genuinely creepy and at other times its risible, but it’s almost always interesting. Running only three volumes long, I’ve already been able to cover the whole thing; it manages to tie things together in a manner which, inasmuch as Uzumaki is an exercise in extremely bleak Lovecraftian cosmic horror, can’t really be described as conventionally satisfying. But it’s at least fitting for what it is in a very “feel bad” sort of manner. All this is abetted by Ito’s rather naturalistic art, making the weirdness feel more grounded in reality. While it’s not particularly gruesome, the easily spooked should take note that grotesque and unnerving imagery abounds.

Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi

Depending on your age, Takahashi’s name is likely to bring up either immediate associations of Ranma 1/2 or InuYasha, whose TV show incarnations have been the gateway drug to otakudom for many. Yours truly is ju-u-st old enough to fall into the former camp in this regard. In spite of that, I haven’t bothered much with the manga original until now. The back of Viz’s omnibus describes Ranma 1/2 as “the all-time greatest manga series!” While I wouldn’t go so far, the first two volumes have been as charming and funny as the early episodes of the show were – in fact, they’re almost identical.

The premise, for those who don’t know, goes thus: Ranma Saotome is a teenaged martial artist whose father is pushing him into an arranged marriage with Akane Tendou, whose family runs a Dojo. Neither of them are too keen on the idea. Ranma also happens to have run afoul of a weird curse where contact with cold water turns him into a girl (hot water reverses the effect). What ensues is a pretty unusual mingling of Dragon Ball-style martial arts antics and Tsundere-inflected romantic comedy. Part of the Ranma’s charm is the anything goes attitude it takes to its situations (martial rhythmic gymnastics? Why not?). Takahashi’s draftsmanship is admirably uncluttered and crisp, lacking the busy feel that some shounen manga have. Reader do note that there’s some casual nudity sprinkled about.

That about covers my recent notable reads. I hope that this experiment in subject matter bears fruit and leads to some more in-depth excavations in the future.

2 thoughts on “Josh’s Manga Roundup: Akira, Jojo, Uzumaki, and Ranma 1/2

  1. Takahashi is really an interesting author. While I give the edge to Adachi as my favorite mangaka, I have to say that Takahashi is the absolute best at characterization.

    Ranma 1/2 is a perfect example. You have a zany story scenario, and most authors would be satisfied with a cast of cliche characters, but Takahashi’s are actually really well thought out. Take Akane Tendo for example, you might initially think she’s just the stereotypical tsundere, yet consideration of her character results in it making perfect sense as to why she is tsundere.

    Akane is from a family of three daughters. Each daughter had developed a specific role in the family. Kasumi was the dutiful daughter, mother figure, and the inheritor of all the feminine virtues. Nabiki became the cynical money grubber. Akane failed at the traditional feminine path, however, she was a dutiful daughter who had a position of respect and honor in the family as the supposed heir to the family school of martial arts.

    Apparently, Akane always supposed that one day she would take over the dojo for her father. She trained hard and became the most powerful martial artist in the area. Even possibly surpassing her father. Imagine how it would feel to one day suddenly discover that your father had never intended for you to inherit, but instead planned to give the family dojo to the son of a friend who you have never met. Oh, and you’re expected to marry him.

    Plus he is so far above you in martial skill that you can’t even hit him and he just plays with you during sparring. And he has a dozen or so additional fiances, girlfriends (self-proclaimed), and rivals who all show up soon after, quickly demoting you to the lower end of the power scale. Lets be fair. That would suck. Hardcore.

    Ranma basically came in, and without even wanting to, stole Akane’s entire identity and life role. To make it worse, when Akane attempts to dutifully fulfill (poorly since she’s not good at it) this new unwanted role as wife and homemaker, Ranma mocks her and rejects her.

    Understand, I get where Ranma is coming from too, but truthfully you can’t blame Akane for harboring some resentment towards Ranma for the mess he’s made of her plans for life.

    On the other hand, Ranma is also basically Akane’s dream guy. A powerful martial artist who protects her, but doesn’t treat her as a prize to be won, and doesn’t try to force himself on her. He’s also a badly abused boy who’s been deprived of his mother, and has little or no friends (the few friends he does have are trying to kill him, marry him, or otherwise control him). This combination of The Woobie and The Hero is almost always a big attraction to women.

    In fact the usual response to such a lead male is for the lead female to make all sorts of excuses for the jerkass behavior by the lead, while she tries to heal his broken heart. I found Akane’s tsundere routine to be much more interesting.

    Indeed, it would be well to remember that many of modern anime’s tropes were actually created by Takahashi.

    Her first manga “Those Darn Aliens” is the very first entry “magical girlfriend anime” genre. Plus the two main female characters, Lum and Shinobu are some of the first tsundere characters in anime, if not the very first. To pre-Evangelion fans, Akane Tendo is probably the main source of their concept of a tsundere. Takahshi also combined the use of a tsundere female lead with the “jerk with a heart of gold” male lead. So that the tsundere was reacting in response to an imperfect male lead, and their back and forth was often more about driving the male lead’s character development rather than just funny tsundere hi-jinks. Additionally, Ranma 1/2 is basically the original source for all the “Martial Arts and Crafts” ideas.

    However, Takahashi’s best work is undoubtedly Maison Ikkoku. Unlike all her other works, this story was about college age adults instead of teenagers. And unlike all her other works, is set in a thoroughly mundane sitcom world. Shorn of all the zany settings of her other stories, her characters shine even more strongly. It’s the greatest anime romance ever written, and modern romance anime still repeatedly drawn on it for inspiration

    Like

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