Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manga Review: You Higuri Puts the Gay in Paris

NOTE: This review originally appeared in LA Alternative, July 14-20, 2006.

MANGA by Lyn Jensen

Higuri Puts the "Gay" in Gay Paris

July brings a double dose of You Higuri’s gay-themed yaoi manga, with DMP/June introducing her Gorgeous Carat Galaxy and TokyoPop/BLU continuing the earlier Gorgeous Carat series. One of yaoi’s most popular artists, Higuri started drawing Gorgeous Carat in 1999. After that series’ four-volume run, she changed publishers and produced a one-volume sequel, Gorgeous Carat Galaxy. (The title refers to jewel theft and uses “Galaxy” as a synonym for “Universe.”)

Higuri once said the Gorgeous Carat stories were inspired by old-time melodrama. “I had plans to make this manga more of a freaky torture-type manga, but it turned out a little different. But at least the contents are wholesome. I guess I really like drawing my bishies [bishonen, pretty boys] getting picked on,” Higuri writes in her notes for Gorgeous Carat, vol. 1. With freaky whips-and-chains torture, and bishies getting picked on, but “wholesome” contents, the result may work better as parody with homoerotic overtones than yaoi. Eye-popping yaoi it’s not, with Gorgeous Carat being rated 16-up and Galaxy getting only a 13-up rating.

If this manga series were a movie, Ebert and Roper would rip it apart for illogical plotting and character development, then give it two thumbs-up anyway. The beginning shows promise. Florian (the leading “bishie”), an impoverished noble in Victorian Paris, becomes human collateral to a loan shark, a distant relative known to Parisian society as Count Courland but to Paris police as the phantom jewel thief Noir.

In most yaoi, Florian would immediately become the count’s sex slave, but Higuri scarcely develops the male leads’ relationship. Instead she spends too much time on flat minor characters. Take the Middle-Eastern serving-girl (please). She’s too obviously a stock character from shoujo manga. Victorian Europe would never have allowed such informality between the sexes, classes, or races.

Speaking of informality, the dialog has Victorians speaking like Gen-X. Higuri’s American fans have expectations, and both publishers are going to take hits for sloppy translations. Even if the original Japanese dialog was cringe-inducing, did the translation have to be?

Yet the series somehow works its charm just the same. Like viewing an uncut gem, fans are rewarded with flashes of brilliance, particularly in the rare scenes between the male leads. May manga fans see more of Higuri and her bishonen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vintage Manga Review: "Star Trek"

NOTE: This review originally appeared in LA Alternative, on 9/6/06.

MANGA by Lyn Jensen


“To boldly go where no man has gone before,” was the original mission of the starship Enterprise. No ordinary TV series, Star Trek boldly forged new frontiers for TV and science fiction. When the show was abruptly cancelled in 1969, it didn’t just fade away into some TV Land of occasional reruns. Fans the world over kept interest in it alive—a remarkable show of support considering VHS and DVD weren’t invented yet. Four decades later, what began as a controversial TV show has become an enduring and influential multi-media phenomenon, a piece of pop culture that refuses to die.

Although Star Trek has spawned comic books and a comic strip, TokyoPop’s release of Star Trek: the Manga is the first venture into the distinctive Asian-influenced comic format. Luis Reyes, editor for the project, says, “We’ve tried to make the individual stories resonate with the spirit of the original show, with Gene Roddenberry’s interest in social and political dynamics, with the fan fascination with the idiosyncrasies of these characters, and with the way the original series used science fiction as a sounding board for larger ideas.”

Fans should be pleased with how much the resulting one-volume manga remains faithful to the original characters and themes. Five veteran comic writers were paired with five top manga artists to create five stories that could easily be adapted into contemporary TV episodes. The original Enterprise crew—Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Sulu, McCoy, Chekov, Uhuru—is all present and accounted for, and they grapple with some frontiers that weren’t on the cultural map in the sixties.

Consider the contribution from one of the featured artists, LA’s own Jeong Mo Yang, who’s “Modus Vivendi” earned him a place in TokyoPop’s Rising Stars of Manga 5 anthology. In the Star Trek episode he illustrates, the Enterprise discovers a planet that warred between the sexes until there were no people left—not alive, anyway. Other episodes take on such themes as cloning and nanotechnology.

Star Trek: the Manga is rated 13-up, most likely because it’s simply too cerebral for the average elementary-school student. As part of TokyoPop’s salute to the 40th anniversary of Star Trek, the publisher is issuing the manga in three different collectable covers: one for retail book chains, one for comic books stores, and one exclusively for Star Trek convention participants.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: 1 World Manga

NOTE: This review first appeared in LA Alternative, Sept. 15, 2006.

Think Globally, Read Locally

by Lyn Jensen

Remember the age-old argument that comics can educate as well as entertain? The three-volume 1 World Manga series that VIZ is currently marketing is a delightful example. It’s not specifically being classified as an educational text, but it’s very different from what’s commonly found in the manga section of bookstores. Teachers looking for something new this school year may want to order these volumes by the boxful for geography, health, science, social studies, and reading courses.

VIZ rates the entire series for all ages but its slant is more adult than that normally indicates. Parents and teachers would be well-advised to exercise some guidance, particularly regarding vol. 2’s subject, AIDS awareness. It’s doubtful, even given today’s attitudes, that many ‘rents consider condoms and pre-marital sex as age-appropriate as Snoopy.

Rather adults and children can read and discuss these manga together, and adults may be surprised to find they learn something as well.
In all three volumes, the teenage hero, Rei, sharpens his marital-arts skills as he battles global villains. Besides the AIDS epidemic, his foes are poverty (in vol. 1) and global warming (in vol. 3). His master is a mysterious spirit who commonly appears in animal forms ranging from a bird to a horse. Not only that, the master concentrates far more on developing his student’s heart, mind, and spirit than fighting skills, much to his student’s chagrin.

While the stories borrow from the shonen (boys’) style, they’re nothing like standard martial-arts manga, for such global foes require a different kind of fight. In the AIDS volume, for example, Rei meets a girl and finds that AIDS has decimated her family and devastated her village. She wants to marry her boyfriend, but she doesn’t know if she can trust him when he says he’s AIDS-free. The characters learn how fighting the AIDS foe requires education, prevention, and medical tests, along with compassion and care for patients.

1 World Manga is the creation of Annette Roman, a VIZ employee who also writes and teaches at Berkeley City College. She teamed with Leandro Ng, an experienced comic artist whose credits include Stargate: Rebellion and Cinder/Hellins. He teaches at the Academy of Art University. The project was created in partnership with the World Bank. All proceeds from sales go to the charity Reading Is Fundamental.