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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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

HARD-TO-FIND MANGA

If you don't grab an entire manga series within six months to a year of its publication, you may find that you're faced with tracking down rare collectors' items—and those aren't cheap--or just doing without. The first option puts a strain on a manga fan's checking account. The second one puts a strain on a manga fan's heart. Below I've rounded up a few major manga series that are only a few years old but are already disappearing from retailers' and distributors' lists. Let's see if they're worth the trouble to track down:


CLAMP Classics

One good thing about CLAMP is that many of these very popular women artists' books are always available—somewhere. When one edition becomes hard to find, just be patient and another will probably take its place. Cardcaptor Sakura, for example, has been made available to American readers three times. First TokyoPop published a version in the American style (the pages read front to back, left to right), which can still sometimes be found at a normal retail price. Next TokyoPop offered a Japanese-style edition (pages read back to front, right to left) that broke the twelve-volume series in two, making the first six volumes Cardcaptor Sakura and the remaining ones Cardcaptor Sakura: Master of the Clow. Those books can also often be found (used) at ordinary prices. Now Dark Horse is publishing a four-volume omnibus edition that packages three volumes into each book, so a retailer should be able to get them for you.


Reading one CLAMP series like Cardcaptor Sakura leads to checking out related series including Tsubasa and XXXholic, which Del Rey has kindly made available to us.


Whether to rush out and buy those two series before they vanish from retailers, however, is another matter. I loved Cardcaptor Sakura until vol. 6, when I disliked the way the lead character changed from a witty, skilled, and charming little superheroine to a helpless innocent that depended entirely upon others. For similar reasons I couldn't make it through even the first volume of either Tsubasa or XXXholic.


The character Sakura in Tsubasa is nothing like the Cardcaptor—she's not an older and wiser superheroine, she's a damsel in distress who can't even think for herself because she's got that cliché known as amnesia.

Likewise, I went into XXXholic expecting a het version of the witty and charming Legal Drug. (Talk about a series that's also getting hard to find, and has yet to be even allowed a proper conclusion.) But I found the witchy leading lady and her flustered young male apprentice to have no chemistry and I didn't find their bickering sexy or witty. I've since heard hints that, true to CLAMP's fondness for beating around the boy-boy bush, the juiciest parts are between the apprentice and his male friend who shows up in some later volume, but I have no appetite for slogging through the series to find out.


Global Manga

TokyoPop invested heavily in global manga a few years ago, and an illustration of that company's publishing fortunes may be found in the fates of two of their original English-language (OEL) titles: Roadsong and Mark of the Succubus. Both were planned and published as three-volume series, but then slowly began vanishing from the retail scene, even from online sites. Allan Gross and Joanna Estep's Roadsong suffers from much of the weaknesses as TokyoPop's much bigger OEL hit, Svetlana Chmakova's Dramacon. In both cases, the creator(s) hit all the right notes in the first volume, but only about half the time in the second, and not even that often in the third. Gross' portrayal of the music scene shows he knows little about it, and Princess Ai (thanks to DJ Milky) sings better songs, too.


On the other hand, Mark of the Succubus is worth tracking down if you're into romantic comedy with supernatural overtones. California girls Ashly Raiti and Irene Flores pulled off hitting just the right notes in all three volumes. Their story about a virgin succubus who can't bring herself to fatally seduce a nice guy is simple, unassuming, and never tries to be more than it is, hence its charm.


For a completely different genre of global manga--raunchy in-your-face yaoi--Yaoi Press is still offering the three-volume Cain by Le Peruggine. The problem with Cain is that only vol. 2 is good raunchy yaoi. The entire first volume is devoted to simply setting up the thin plot, while the third volume is far more violent than erotic.


Speaking of Yaoi (and Related)


Most anything in the yaoi genre is getting hard to find. Gone are the days when several yaoi books at a time graced major retailers' shelves. Be Beautiful titles including Naduki Koujima's Selfish Love are now high-priced collectors' items. I can never quite get with Koujima but I can never quite get away from her unique style, either.


DMP still sells Koujima's Our Kingdom, which is apparently stalled at vol. 6. Kingdom takes the same plot points as Selfish Love and develops them over a much longer story arc—rich aggressive boy, poor reluctant boy, and the little black lucky charm that comes between them. Like Selfish Love, the story has ups and downs but the first five volumes are essential for a Koujima fan. Vol. 5 is what you read if you're just looking for the sex. However, Vol. 6 takes off on a new story arc, just before the series took a hiatus that's lasted two years now, so only purchase that volume if you like being left hanging.


BLU titles seem especially hard to find—but thank this TokyoPop inprint for making the four-volume classic series Earthian available, even if it may be more interesting as a piece of eighties' nostalgia than as yaoi. The series' creator Yun Kouga (who later did Loveless) has explained she chose a boy-boy story because she wanted to portray a love so great not even the death penalty could stop it. The story reflects its era because the homosexual aspect is overshadowed by side stories about incest, the mafia, secret government experiments, hints about a "black cancer" that could be AIDS, and martial arts clichés about the fate of the world.


TokyoPop originally pitched Kasane Katsumoto's Hands Off to the yaoi crowd but it's more in the paranormal genre, as the three young male leads struggle with being closet psychics. Through eight volumes, the plot wanders far from its original comic-dramatic genre-crossing innuendo and goes further and further into tragic-comic martial-arts clichés about the fate of the world. If you're on a budget, skip volumes 2 and 4. The remaining books are sufficient for the story.


Eerie Queerie is another title TokyoPop pitched to the yaoi crowd before the publisher created the BLU imprint, and it's worth seeking out even if you have to buy it used. Buy it cheap, however, because it's more a curiosity than a classic. As Jason Thompson describes this four-volume series by Shuri Shiozu, it's more a wink-wink nudge-nudge series of guy-guy jokes than a sequential plot. It also mixes genres--part supernatural, part comedy, part yaoi. As such all four volumes resemble a box score—some chapters are hits, some are outs. Vols. 1 and 4 are the best, while vol. 2 is most notable for its story of a gay teen that committed suicide. Maybe you can skip vol. 3—except it does have a sexy and funny Valentine's Day story and a couple of kinky supporting characters.

VIZ doesn't do yaoi unless you count Akimi Yoshida's Banana Fish, which like Earthian, is a pioneering and classic manga from the eighties. I wish I'd started my manga fandom with this series, because it led the way for so many others. It combines crime and relationship drama over nineteen volumes (at least), and it's ready to become a six-or-eight-part mini-series whenever some American TV producer gets bold enough to option it. VIZ has published American-style and Japanese-style editions over the years, and both are getting harder and harder to find. If you find any copies for a decent price, grab 'em.

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