Just like I do with movies I'm going to start reviewing some of the things I read during the week. This may include novels, manga, comic books or anything other thing I might pick up. There's no way I can cover everything as I tend to read a lot of stuff but I'll try to pick out those that leave an impression on me. Good or bad.
This is another manga by Shigeru Mizuki. After devouring his Showa: A History of Japan I was craving some more of his work. This another psuedo autobiography and details his early years growing up in Japan. The focus this time is on his relationship with Nonnonba, an elderly neighbor who served as a kind of grandmother to him. It was she that introduced him to the world of yokai of which the majority of his manga work is about. In fact even this work if filled with the crazy yokai creatures! Again I loved every minute I was reading this. His writing style is fairly simple yet the small moments, such as those with his father, can have some serious meaning. His cartoony art style is also very appealing and gives the work a timeless quality. Many of the stories found in this one are also in the Showa: A History of Japan but in a truncated form. It was great getting the full stories this time around especially the one about his first encounter with doughnuts! A truly wonderful read and easy to recommend to anyone, even those unfamilar with manga.
2. MERMAID SAGA
I first encountered this work years ago when Viz Video brought over the OVA adaptation. While I never actually got to see the OVA, even to this day, the trailer for it left an impression on me. Finally a couple of years ago I managed to snag the 4 volume re-release of the manga. I read most of it the first time around but never finished it. Then while watching an episode of Case Closed that dealt with Japanese mermaids I became curious to re-read the story. For those that don't know mermaids in Japan have a unique twist on them different from our Little Mermaid style tales. In Japan, and other Asian countries, it's said that if you eat the flesh of a mermaid you can become immortal. However this doesn't always happen as the flesh can also kill you or turn you into a monster. This manga follows a young man who has actual become immortal due to eating a mermaid and now seeks a way to become mortal once more. It's not really a serialized story so much as it is a series of tales involving people seeking immortality. It's a pretty dark work and is done by Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Inuyasha and Ranma 1 1/2. the art in the book is fantastic, especially the monsters created from eating mermaid flesh. Her writing style is equally dark and filled with a wonderful sense of melancholy. Any fan of Inuyasha would definitely enjoy this one and equally so for horror afficianados. There was also an anime series done of it in 2003 but below is a look at the trailer for the 90's OVA that originally sparked my interest:
3. DELTORA SHADOWLANDS
This time we have a series of novels! This is actually the sequel series to the original Deltora Quest book series. The original story detailed the quest of a young boy named Lief who together with his friends Barda and Jasmine traveled across the land of Deltora to collect magic gems. These gems fit into a belt that once completed could save Deltora from the evil Shadow Lord. I got interested in this book series after catching the anime adaptation on The Hub network. I was instantly hooked from the first episode and as soon as I finished watching it I picked up the first book series. For Christmas I got this second series and tore right through it. This one picks up a little while after the end of the first series and has Lief and his friends attempting to go to the Shadowlands, home of the Shadow Lord, to rescue all the people of Deltora held prisoner there. What makes this work interesting is it further builds the world of Deltora by exploring the land beneath the country and of course the Shadowlands themelves. What I really like about Emily Rodda's writing is how she manages to use emotions as weapons. The most vile part of the Shadowlands is the fact that the wind itself literally saps your will and creates a sense of despair. This kind of writing reminds me of the Dementor's in Harry Potter and really adds a different level of antagonism. Rodda also has an incredibly vivid imagination and her wonderful description really bring to life the many different creatures our heroes face. The story may be written for children but it's easily enjoyed by people of any age. I really enjoyable fantasy series for anyone and I can't wait to start the third series! Here's a look at the anime adaptation of the first series:
4. THE BIG BOOK OF SUMO
I am not a sports fan. In fact I pretty much hate watching sports except for the occasional soccer game. However recently I started getting interested in sumo wrestling after watching some tournaments on the show Sports Japan. Not really knowing anything about sumo I decided to pick up a book on the sport to learn more about it. As soon as I saw those illustrations of a big smiling sumo wrestling I knew this was the book for me. What I really like about this one is it's written by an American and actually details his own journey into the world of sumo. This makes for both an informative and fascintating read. He gives a brief history of sumo and then goes into describing the many facets of the sports. All of which are accompanied by the very informative and cute sumo cartoons! While I have yet to finish this one it's already deepened my interest in the sport and given me some great knowledge.
5. WHAT IF CONAN THE BARBARIAN WALKED THE EARTH TODAY?
Some of you are probably thinking this has got to be pretty awful. However I really enjoy the idea of taking Conan the Barbarian and tossing him into modern times. Of course this comic being pretty old modern times means the 1970's. I gotta say this was actually a pretty well written and entertaining story. Roy Thomas really mastered the art of writing Conan and easily handled having him in the modern world. He also gives Conan something to relate to by having the city face a blackout turning civilized man back into barbarism. I really like the fact that he also made Conan unable to communicate with people. A lot of times writers take the easy way out and make it so those of different languages can suddenly talk to one another. Not here, the whole time Conan and those around him must make judgement calls without being able to talk. Not really a story for everyone but it's definitely a good one.
6. WHAT IF CONAN THE BARBARIAN...WERE STRANDED IN THE 20TH CENTURY?
I'd actually been wanting to read this one for years after seeing the cover in an old issue of Wizard magazine. I mean just look at that awesome cover art! Sadly the interior art is no where near as good and neither is the writing. This is actually a sequel of sorts to the previous What if issue with the story postulating that Conan did not make it back to his own time at the end of the last story. The plot is an interesting idea with Conan forming his own gang in modern day New York and taking over a small neighborhood. This leads to a confrontation with Captain America which is actually pretty well choregraphed. The problem is the writing is not up to par and relies on a lot of stereotypes. Oh and that thing about language I mentioned? Yeah Conan somehow learns English pretty quickly here. Oh and he dresses like a pimp for a while. Yup no where near as good as the first one. Still that cover is damn awesome!
7. WHAT IF THE MIGHTY THOR BATTLED CONAN THE BARBARIAN?
Again this probably seems like an awful idea but this two fantasy characters work suprisingly well together! The smartest aspect of this tale is that Thor is thrown back in time to the age of Conan without his powers or memories. He's basically just a mortal with a big hammer and has no idea he's a God. This makes it possible for the two to do battle but really that's just the start of the tale. The two quickly become friends and go on a quest together to reclaim the Thunder gods memories. I gotta say Conan and Thor make a great buddy style story! They play off one another perfectly and I would actualy love a series like this. The best part of the story though is when Thor goes up against Conan's god Crom! It's a great sequence and filled with a mythic quality. Sometimes these What If stories can really surprise you with how well done they are and without the continuity restrictions can really craft some wonderful tales.
8. CONAN THE BARBARIAN: RED NAILS
Red Nails is generally thought of as the most quintessential Conan story and this comic adaptation is considered the best Conan comic. Obviously then I've been meaning to read this one for quite some time. First off the art by Barry Windsor-Smith is damn amazing. The opening battle between Conan and a dragon is simply incredible. There's just a level of detail to every single panel that you just don't see in your average comic. As for the story itself I didn't find it particularly amazing as it seems like a pretty typical Conan tale. That's not to say it's not good or interesting though! Having read a ton of Conan I'm just used to the type of adventures he gets into. Again the art does a wonderful job of moving the story along and giving the whole story a very ominous feel. For those new to Conan this is a wonderful place to start and the art alone is reason for a true fan to check it out.
9. JUSTICE RIDERS
This is an Elseworlds story about an alternate DC Universe where all the DC superheroes are cowboys in the Wild West. That concept was enough to sell me on this story! The book is written by Chuck Dixon and he does a great job of supplanting the heroes into a Western theme. I really liked that he made Wonder Woman (here known as Sheriff Diana Prince) the main hero and leader of the team that becomes the Justice Riders. The book mainly focuses on the old Justice League International line-up so you'll also see alternate versions of Martian Mahunter, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Hawkman, Flash, Oberon and even Maxwell Lord. I really enjoyed this short graphic novel and the only negative is that it was only a one shot. I would love to see more stories set in this DC Wild West!