Manga: Reviews of Gyo and Satoshi Kon’s Opus

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Comics by Any Other Name

Beginning in April, The Comics Alternative will be presenting a new monthly show devoted exclusively to manga. Derek will be joined by Shea Hennum, a manga aficionado and longtime friend of the podcast, to discuss both new and older titles. In this inaugural episode, Shea and Derek begin by laying out their agenda and describing the format of the show. Around the last half of every month, they will discuss two manga titles, one of GyoDeluxewhich will in some way be new. (The guys define “new” as a first-time publication, a new translation, an updated edition of an older volume, or a new collection of previously published individual volumes.) This month, Derek and Shea discuss Junji Ito’s Gyo — which is seeing a brand new 2-in-1 deluxe edition from VIZ Media  — and Satoshi Kon’s Opus, which came out a few months ago from Dark Horse. Before they get to the titles, though, the guys first define what they mean by “manga,” contextualizing it as both a medium and a style. They also address common and essentializing misconceptions of manga, introducing forms that are far different from the kind of manga most popularly known in this country (e.g., NarutoBleach, and Fruits Basket). In fact, they predict that the vast majority of what they’ll be discussing on the monthly shows are titles that most American fans of manga will not immediately recognize. Shea and Derek then recommend a few manga guides or introductory critical works that listeners might find useful. But after all of the preliminary comments and explanations, the guys get down to the nitty gritty of the show: discussing specific manga titles. They begin with Gyo, emphasizing its disturbing tone and sheer creepiness. Junji Ito is a master of the horror genre, as is evidenced by earlier works, Tomie and Uzumaki, and in Gyo the terror comes from a gaseous stench and fish on mechanical legs. At times Ito stretches credibility by taking his narrative close to the extreme, but he seems to always pull back just before venturing into the ridiculous. In fact, while reading Gyo, Derek Opuskept thinking of Sharknado and other outlandish Syfy over-the-top movies, although not making the association in a negative way. Junji Ito is a much more intelligent, and adept, storyteller than that. Next, they focus on Satoshi Kon’s Opus. Of the two titles discussed this month, this is the one that really captures the guys’ admiration. Primarily known for his anime Perfect BlueParanoia AgentTokyo Godfathers, and Paprika, Satoshi Kon began his career as a manga artist, and Shea points out that this work goes a long way in defining the artist’s general approach to storytelling. Indeed, Opus is all about creators and their relationships with, and responsibilities to, their creations. It is a metafictional narrative where the protagonist, a manga artist by the name of Chikara Nagai, plunges into his own created storyworld and is seen as a god-like figure by his characters. But some of the players in his story attempt to wrench control of their own destinies, creating an almost dizzying interaction between “reality” and “fiction.” As Derek mentions, fans of Grant Morrison will love what Satoshi Kon does in Opus. And although the book was ultimately incomplete at the time of the artist’s death in 2010, the editors of this edition include an unfinished final chapter that, for all practical purposes, wraps things up as best as possible. All in all, this is an exciting first outing for Shea and Derek in their attempt to immerse both themselves and their listeners into the fascinating world of manga.

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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