Archive for July, 2011

“Basket” case: A tale of mirth and woe

July 31st, 2011
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This month’s Manga Movable Feast, hosted by David Welsh over at The Manga Curmudgeon, is offering up a healthy platter full of fruits — Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket, to be exact.

During one of my early, “let’s get a head start on liquidating Borders before the real sale starts and everyone else starts doing the same thing at a lower sale price than I’m getting” Borders runs, I hit upon what I thought would be a great way of approaching this topic: namely, looking at everything else Tokyopop released in the U.S. that was stamped with the words “From the creator of Fruits Basket!” We’re talking Rumiko Takahashi-level marketing of other series by the same artist based on the huge success of one title. Except without those garish yellow stickers, of course.

The honor was warranted, of course. Readers loved Fruits Basket. So much so, in fact, that the hyperbole on the books’ covers gradually built over the series’ run.  Need to be reminded that Fruits Basket was “The #1 selling shojo manga in America!”? There was a blurb for that, starting from volume 5 …

… and lasting through volume 23 …

… and, of course, both fan books.

But maybe you’re holding out for a higher level of praise. Like, say, “the world’s most popular shojo manga.” That started showing up in the back cover copy around volume 9.

But that paled in comparison to it being the “super popular world’s most popular shojo manga” starting from volume 14.

And then starting from volume 17, it was also “Winner of the American Anime Award for Best Manga!” (By the way, was there ever a second American Anime Awards ceremony? My gut instinct tells me no.)

Seeing as how Tokyopop built up this series as, I dunno, the greatest series of all time, it would stand to reason that they’d market the heck out of Natsuki Takaya’s connection to her other series. Which is probably how we got the five-volume Phantom Dream in 2008, followed by the three-volume Tsubasa: Those Without Wings in 2009 and the single-volume collection of short stories, Songs to Make You Smile, in 2010. It’s a bit difficult now to find Phantom Dream on sale anywhere locally, although I did find two libraries, Kalihi and Kapolei, that carry it, and I meant to pick it up. Tsubasa and Songs were Borders pickups. All of this made for the backbone for a really great post idea!

… if, that is, I actually had time last week to write it.

Which, after lunch with a friend on one day off, judging the Liliha Library Anime Art Contest entries on the other day off, and nonstop copy desk workworkworkworkwork leaving me exhausted on the other days of the MMF, I … kinda didn’t.

And so I’ve resorted to Plan B: revisiting everything I’ve written before about Fruits Basket proper. I’ve looked at the series twice in my career as an anime/manga critic. The first time was with a Drawn & Quartered column published in the Star-Bulletin on Dec. 26, 2004, and while it’s a nice introduction to the series — the anime adaptation in particular — it only brushes the surface of what it eventually becomes. I don’t think I had access to all 26 episodes at the time, and the manga had only reached the quarter point in its U.S. run. So it ended up focusing heavily on the whole “Sohma family cursed! People turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when hugged!” element of the series.

It took me a few years, but I finally was able to put the transformations into their proper perspective and flesh out my thoughts on the series in another essay. Unfortunately, it’s going to cost a bit of money for you to see it in its entirety, or at least make a trip down to your local library. Indeed, it’s part of my book, the long-plugged-in-this-space-and-still-available-for-sale Rough Guide to Manga. Fruits Basket made The Canon, my list of 50 must-read manga series; here’s some of what I wrote:

Tohru’s fragility — seen in her need to belong and her fear of losing her friends — lies largely hidden behind her kind, generous nature. In this way her character is symbolic of the series as a whole — sweetness on the surface, with a constant undercurrent of dark secrets and melancholic moods. The whole “transforming animals” gimmick eventually settles into the background, making way for progressively deeper explorations of the curse that binds the Sohmas. … It’s a progressively complex story that draws you in with its cuteness and keeps you reading with its collection of deepening mysteries.

That, in a nutshell, is why I loved Fruits Basket so much, as well as why I think the series has resonated so much with anyone who’s read it as well. And that’s why I’d love to look at Takaya’s other works in the future. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can address the 15 or 16 other pending posts that sit and wait patiently and sad-eyed for my attention (hello, untranscribed interview from November 2010 and HEXXP, I promise I’ll get to you before HEXXP 2011).

Sealing the Borders: What’s next for manga fans?

July 22nd, 2011
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I was reminded of just how much of a void Borders’ closing will leave in the community when I stopped by the Pearlridge store on Monday, just a few hours after reading the news breaking on Twitter.

I felt like I had to go, partly because I felt my Borders Rewards Plus membership effectively had only a few final days of use in it (now I find that it’ll live through Aug. 5), partly because I wanted to fill whatever holes I have left in contemporary manga series while (a) there were still books on the shelves and (b) I could still get my books without anyone slashing through the bar codes with a black marker. (Hooray for completing my Inu-Yasha run! )

At the entrance, there was a sign listing upcoming store events. One of those events: a manga-drawing class. “See any book seller for details,” a note at the bottom read. If I had seen that on any other day, I would have done just that, gathered any relevant information, and posted something about it here. Monday’s news, however, rendered any potential fact-finding mission moot. With the chain shifting into liquidation mode starting today, it’s safe to assume that that’s off the table for good.

Some may choose to look back on the story of Borders as a tale of corporate hubris, a big-box behemoth that shuttered smaller stores in its wake, only to suffer the same fate itself as it fell further behind in adapting to an increasingly digital world. But let’s look at it through the lens of the manga community, where the chain went a long way toward molding the habits of a sizable number of U.S. fans… for better and for worse. (more…)

The Cel Shaded report, 7/20: Local pros and Comic-Cons

July 20th, 2011
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Yes, I know, the Cel Shaded report has, for the most part, run on Thursdays. This week’s a special case, though … for the past few days, I’ve been working on a reaction post to the news that the Borders bookstores are shutting down. It’s going to take a little while longer to brew that up, though … I’m hoping to have that up by the weekend. But first things first — this will be a weekend full of conventions and gatherings both local and abroad, and I wanted to give those some good, extended play here on the blog.

Here locally, we have the Hawaii All-Collectors Show happening Friday from 3 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. There will be a good number of antiques and collectibles on display and for sale, but the element of the show that may be most relevant to anime fans’ interests may be the booth hosted by Oahu Anime Explorer. The club will be teaming up with the Pacific Outpost 501st Legion for some cosplay fun. This year, though, the club is also conducting a charity drive to benefit the young victims of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan, partnering with the Hawaii Entertainment Expo Experience (HEXXP) to collect manga, toys, Region 2 DVDs (typically DVDs coded for play in Japan) and models to send to the children in the Sendai area. The drive will continue at HEXXP Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, with musical guests ALSDEAD and Takashi O’Hashi taking whatever’s donated back to Japan with them.

Yoshiki Takahashi, HEXXP director of guest relations, said in a statement, “Many of the victims of the great Tohoku quake and tsunami were children. Among those who survived, some lost their parents, and most of them lost all of their possessions in the tsunami. HEXXP, along with the Oahu Anime Explorer and our many partnering conventions are working together to help bring happiness to those children who have lost everything.”

Admission to the All-Collectors Show is $5, or $2 for children ages 7 to 11. You can get a dollar-off admission coupon at the website I linked above.

Over at the Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako (a long stone’s throw away from us here at Star-Advertiser Tower in Restaurant Row) there’s going to be a Keiki Bon Dance Festival on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Members of Honpa Hongwanji will be leading dances including — I swear I’m not making this up; it’s right here in the press release in front of me — the “Pokemon Ondo.” If I had any kids, I’d bring them just so I could see that. Children can also learn how to make hachimaki (headbands) and uchiwa (fans) at this event. Admission is $10 general, $8 kamaaina and military members, $6 senior citizens ages 62 and up; anyone who comes dressed in yukata or happi can knock a dollar off those prices.

We also have some regularly scheduled meetings this weekend; matter of fact, I have a section for just that purpose, where did that template go … ahh, here it is:

Anime around town

>> Aiea Library Anime Club: 3 p.m. Saturday at the library, 99-143 Moanalua Road. This month, librarian Diane Masaki will be screening the first volume of Trigun, which should ease the pain of not getting a Trigun: Badlands Rumble screening locally. (Then again, given the overall tone of a recent Anime News Network review, maybe we aren’t missing much, after all.) For more information or to RSVP, call 483-7333 or e-mail aiealibraryanimeclub@yahoo.com.

>> MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. Visit www.manga-bento.com.

California drawin’

The big story on the national front, though, is that shindig going down deep in the heart of area code 619, home to Padres, Chargers, a bunch of killer whales all named Shamu and WWE wrestler Superstar Rey Mysterio.  It’s Comic-Con International weekend in San Diego, kicking off with Preview Night tonight and running all the way through Sunday. Many announcements will be made, many fanpeeps will be thrilled, and many collectibles will be introduced that I will want to buy immediately but have to wait patiently until next year to get my hands on.

There’s going to be a nice little contingent of people from our otaku ohana making the trip –the creative minds of KimonoKitsy Studios, Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga, will be selling nemu*nemu swag, including their shuuuuper-cute con-exclusive Pup Avenger Field Notes, in the Small Press exhibit area. Star-Advertiser cartoonist Jon J. Murakami and Gordon Rider inspiration Gordon Chan will be helping out cartoonist (and upcoming HEXXP guest) Phil Yeh at the Cartoonists Across America table and selling some Gordon Rider merchandise. Even Hillary Chang, young adult librarian and acting branch manager at McCully-Moiliili Library, is getting in on the fun as one of the panelists at the “Graphic Novels for Non-Teenagers” panel (Friday at 3:30 p.m. in room 26AB, for those of you fortunate enough to be in San Diego right now). I’d also be remiss in not plugging Ryan Ozawa’s upcoming coverage over at Honolulu Pulse.

As for me? Well, I took my vacation — a lovely little staycation, where I got everything and nothing accomplished at the same time — last week. Something about me being in the company of too many fanpeeps in one location gives me hives. Also, having to click nonstop for 20 minutes or so in hopes that I’m one of the lucky people who gets the privilege of buying a full weekend pass before they sell out, plus another 20 minutes or so in hopes of snagging one of those elusive hotel rooms nearby? No thank you. (And yes, before you ask, I know I could save myself the hassle and apply for a press pass … but come on, this is Comic-Con, I don’t want the obligation of having to work at it.)

There is, however, one perk worth mentioning for those of us not making the trip. As part of their Comic-Con celebration, KimonoKitsy Studios has cut the price of its first nemu*nemu e-book — volume 5 in the series collecting strips from the fifth year; also the first book to be printed in full color — to $1.99. (Regular price is $5.99.) I’ll probably pick up a copy, but I must admit, there’s still something to be said about the charm of the printed format and what can be done with that.

See? (Full journalistic disclosure: I received this from Team KimonoKitsy at Kawaii Kon this year, their way of thanking me for more than five years of Cel Shaded coverage. It was, in a word, OMGincrediblyniceandawesome.)