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.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2006 Manga Review: Cult Artist Kazuo Koike

NOTE: This is an edited and revised version of a review that originally appeared in LA Alternative in late 2006.

MANGA by Lyn Jensen

Cult Figure's Torturous Path

Kazuo Koike stands virtually alone among writers in the world of international comics and manga. At a recent [2006] personal appearance in San Diego, grown men swooned over him like groupies over a rock star. (Yes, really—when a panel he appeared at was opened to questions, one guy was typical when he came to the mike and said, “No questions, I just want to tell you I think you’re wonderful.”)

He’s an international cult figure in the world of comics and manga primarily because he wrote Lone Wolf and Cub, which became The Road to Perdition with Prohibition-era gangsters replacing Japanese samurai. He also wrote Lady Snowblood, which by a less direct route became the two-part movie Kill Bill.

In America, comic-strip cartoonists often do their entire strip (often with assistants, of course) but comic books require a script and artwork. This also holds true in Japan. No other manga writer, however, has achieved the cult status of Koike.

Dark Horse has published Path of the Assassin, written by Koike and drawn by Goseki Kojima, the same team that produced Lone Wolf and Cub. The first volume, sub-titled Serving in the Dark, was released in June [2006]. Vol. 2, sub-titled Sand and Flower, is due later [in 2006].

Assassin covers essentially the same history as James Clavell’s classic novel Shogun, but focuses on the lifelong friendship between the shogun Ieyasu and Hattori Hanzo, the legendary ninja who served him. Even those familiar with Japanese history, however, are likely to find this manga rough going.

Koike has said, “If you have a strong character, the storyline will develop naturally on its own …Take two characters that are polar opposites … The struggle between these two characters develops the story.”

In Path, however, the lead characters develop little save their martial-arts skills and their medieval attitudes towards women. One young man gains a wife when he rapes a captive, while the other suffers a sad fate—his bride isn’t a virgin. Such was probably true in medieval Japan, but we aren’t in medieval Japan, folks.

Historical authenticity may explain such artistic weakness, but that doesn’t explain Crying Freeman; another Koike manga, this one with artist Ryochi Ikegami, which Dark Horse is also bringing to America.

In this contemporary gangster manga, the characters appear as merely props in an ultra-violent, sexually explicit video game, without the game. There’s no plot point that can’t be altered by a turn of the page--it makes no difference whether the page features a ghastly corpse falling from a closet is or a woman being raped. It’s all just so much sensationalism that moves from hack work to unintentional humor to worse, piling on the crude racism and sexism and shock non-value as it goes.

Some international cult figures should never break out of cult status, and these manga aptly demonstrate why. Obviously both Path and Freeman are rated 18-up, but they’re not directed at an adult mentality.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vintage Review: Yaoi Press

NOTE: This review originally appeared in LA Alternative, Sept. 1, 2006 and was later posted on the Deviant Art site.


by Lyn Jensen

Yaoi—the word—originated as an acronym for a Japanese expression that translates very roughly as, “No peak, no point, no problem.” The story may have no peak, the joke, no point, but the lack of meaning is no problem. The term was originally applied to fanzines (doujinshi in Japanese) that were bizarre parodies of other works, particularly in regard to homosexual content. This element of the bizarre helps distinguish yaoi from gay-themed material in general.

For evidence, take a look at Yaoi Press’ manga, including the publisher’s hottest series, Saihoshi: The Guardian. It’s a sword-and-sorcery manga about the adventures of a “Guardian of the North,” a special class of warrior whose traditional weapon is a giant pair of scissors. The bizarreness just keeps on coming, with a prince, servant, councilor, and mercenary all having the hots for just about every guy they see. Vol. 1 broke Yaoi Press sales records. Vol. 2 becomes available in September [2006].

Unlike other major English-language yaoi publishers, Yaoi Press does not reprint manga from Asia, but instead produces “Western yaoi” by American and European women. Yamilla Abraham founded the Las Vegas-based company in 2004. She has since published more than a dozen yaoi manga.

Another recent Yaoi Press manga, Stallion, gives “Western yaoi” a double meaning. From KOSEN, the same team that created Saihoshi, it’s a cheesy-but-fun one-shot parody about a cowboy and Indian who become partners in more ways than one. Although entirely different from Brokeback Mountain, Abraham admits she couldn’t resist drawing comparisons with the movie’s theme of unconventional romance. (In fact, if you’ve heard the expression, “brokeback manga,” it refers to yaoi.)

Yaoi Press brings together manga artists on a global scale. KOSEN is a pair of popular female artists from Spain. So is Kawaii, who collaborated with Abraham on a parody of the Arthurian legend, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” included in the first volume of Saihoshi. Kawaii’s own manga, Treasure, debuts this month. 2007 will find Yaoi Press offering a manga from the popular Italian team Dany & Dany. Who knew Spain and Italy had manga scenes, and yaoi, too?

Yaoi Press recommends its manga for mature readers (18-plus) but compares the contents to a PG-13 movie. Go on-line for Yaoi Press titles, as they’re not likely to be found on bookstore shelves.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Vintage Manga: Enchanter Review

NOTE: The following is an edited version of a manga review that orginally appeared in LA Alternative in 2006.

MANGA by Lyn Jensen

When Demons Make Love and War

Haruhiko’s got two women on his mind, his prim young teacher and the scantily-clad demon who wants his body. Her demon lover got knocked off in some metaphysical war and she’s looking for a replacement. So begins Enchanter by Izumi Kawachi, the latest shonen (boys’ action) manga from California-based Digital Manga Publishing (DMP). At ten volumes and counting, it’s a hot acquisition for DMP.

Although more a romantic comedy than the typical shonen action comic, this manga’s been compared to the very popular Fullmetal Alchemist. Absent, however, is FMA’s artistic creation of an alternate futuristic world that resembles early twentieth-century comics. The art of Enchanter is more contemporary-looking. Enchanter is rated 16-up.