Disappearing ink: The forgotten Viz Signatures

This month, the Manga Movable Feast, under the guidance of host Kate Dacey at The Manga Critic, is celebrating manga past and present that have appeared under Viz’s Signature imprint. Any series that garners the Signature label likely has several qualities going for it: It’s a title geared toward older audiences; it’s probably beloved by Manga Movable Feasters (and, by extension, manga bloggers in general) the world over; and, save for a few exceptions (i.e. Tenjho Tenge … for now, anyway), you’d be really hard-pressed to find anything more than the latest volume of it at your local retailer amid the sea of 500,000 Bleach, Naruto, One Piece and Sailor Moon volumes.

IKKIbanner-NOART-120x60-3rd-yellowAll this talk about the Signature line reminded me of when Viz tried its hardest to nudge it more into the spotlight. Flash back to one week in May 2009, when, in one fell swoop, Viz announced that it was canceling Shojo Beat magazine and starting a new, online-exclusive anthology: Viz Signature Ikki (SigIkki to all its friends), based on a Shogakukan magazine in Japan targeted at young men. The intent was to gauge reader interest in the series posted, with the most popular series getting print runs down the line. I even wrote a Cel Shaded column about it, because really, shock and awe were the moods of the day: Print anthologies, canceled? Legal manga distributed on the Intarwebz, and for free? Revolutionary!

So here we are now, looking back to that seemingly quaint time in the present day (present time, muhahahaha). The print editions of Yen Plus and Shonen Jump also were canceled, moving from print to digital. Shojo Beat’s thrived quite nicely, thank you very much, as a Viz manga imprint. Viz has itself jumped wholeheartedly into digital, offering downloads on both computers and Apple’s iOS devices. (Sorry, Android users.)

And the Ikki initiative? It seems to be drifting into the Black Hole of Manga Websites.  Those of you who were around to watch as the U.S. manga industry boom slowly imploded upon itself over a five-year span, rendering a good chunk of the “Publishers” chapter of The Rough Guide to Manga outdated within a year of its publication in the process (*sigh*), have seen the signs before: First, the updates become inconsistent; then they become infrequent; then it becomes painfully clear that no one cares about updating the thing at all; and finally you either get one of those lame “THIS DOMAIN IS AVAILABLE FOR SALE” splash pages or an “ERROR 404 PAGE NOT FOUND” message in your browser.

I’d say Ikki’s hovering somewhere around the second stage right about now, gradually sliding into the third stage. After several years of updating four times a month with new manga chapters, the schedule slipped to twice monthly last October. After December 9, the updates stopped altogether. Many of the chapters listed in the update calendar are already gone, having been compiled in print volumes. A poll inviting visitors to “Create The Comix Future!” is blank. The last published interview, with Dorohedoro editor Mr. Kouga, was posted on March 25, 2010; the last “Ikki Underground” update was made on Dec. 10, 2009.

It’s all good, though, as long as the manga’s still coming out somewhere.  And for the most part, the series launched on sigikki.com have continued to live on in print and paid digital apps.

All of them, that is, except for four titles.

For a line that musters modest readership at best, these four — Bob and His Funky Crew, I Am A Turtle, Tokyo Flow Chart and What’s the Answer? — appear to have been unable to garner enough reader support online to make publishing them worth Viz’s time. Here are the stories of the Forgotten Four, along with their SigIkki debut dates and a few thoughts on whether readers really missed out in seeing more.

Bob and His Funky Crew (Nov. 19, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: Meet Bob, the Major League’s legendary cleanup batter who can’t run, can’t field, and can’t play under pressure. His experience, raunchy jokes, and the fact that no one else wants to take his position makes Bob an irreplaceable designated hitter…until he gets traded to the previous year’s division-title team, the Bulldog City Bullies. Together with his funky friends, Youngman “The One-way Runaway Train” (brawling 3rd baseman), “Stink Bug” Jo (2nd base conman), and “The Game Breaker” Jack (relief pitcher with a flea’s heart), the underdogs will reign this baseball season!

Bob and His Funky CrewImpressions: I noted during the Cross Game Manga Movable Feast last year that I love baseball. It stands to reason, then, that I would’ve loved to have seen more of this series. Would it have fallen into the usual sports story cliched cycle of “introduce the lovable losers, drag them around in the dregs of the league for a while, then watch them slowly pull themselves together and win a championship through determination and sheer force of will”? Probably.

Yet at the same time, I want to believe that Bob and the boys are cut from a different cloth. I want to believe that they’re such pathetic losers, they won’t have that championship moment for a long, long time, so that we can see them fumbling about for a bit and have fun doing so. These are guys traded from the Los Angeles Earthquakes to the league leaders, the Bulldog City Bullies, in exchange for the Bullies’ manager, after all. Absurdist humor prevails throughout, whether it’s the Earthquakes’ GM wanting to advertise for a new manager on Craigslist with “moderate compensation,” an argument between teams that ends up throwing in a discussion on the definition of “permafrost,” or Bob and Youngman debating over whose slump is worse and, thus, who can claim more personal responsibility for letting down the team. Those of you who remember Cromartie High School and its dopey delinquents will find a similar feel here. (Although sadly, nothing could possibly equal the comic brilliance that were Cromartie’s Mechazawa and Freddie.)

I Am A Turtle (Aug. 20, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: Follow this turtle down a Zen path through the wondrous natural world of Japan. Witness his simple life on a tea farm with his young master. Meet other animals such as his neighbor, the Sea Dog, an owl, a family of boars and, of course, more turtles! Come see how much better life can be when you’re a turtle.

I Am A TurtleImpressions: Well, we never do get to meet any of  Turtle’s friends and neighbors, save for a two-page spread with labels denoting who’s who. What we do see in our short taste of this series, is how  Turtle got from Africa to Japan (he fell out of his original owner’s pant leg as he was smuggled into the country) and Turtle’s musings on how furry things are often cute. All of this is told in the style of 4-koma, those four-paneled strips that resemble the traditional U.S. newspaper comic strip.

The thing about these 4-koma series, though, is that they’re wildly inconsistent in quality. When the humor clicks, people buy them in droves — see Azumanga Daioh, K-ON!, Lucky Star and Hetalia. When it doesn’t … well, look at Tori Koro, the bland tale of a bland girl and her bland mom who take in two bland teenage boarders, where it was difficult to tell the characters apart and ComicsOne/DrMaster’s splotchy printing sucked out what little life there was left in the drawings. I Am A Turtle certainly doesn’t fall on the Tori Koro side of the scale — Temari Tamura’s detailed drawings of the various animals certainly eliminates any potential issues with character design — but it also doesn’t reach the humorous heights of, say, Azumanga. It’s definitely not as charming as my current gold standard for the “stories told from the perspective of an animal” category And for a customer who needs more substance before committing to buying a volume of manga, it doesn’t feel like I Am A Turtle could deliver on anything more than a series of hit-or-miss gags.

Tokyo Flow Chart (July 30, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: Have you ever wished that somebody else would just DO SOMETHING about the chaos in your life? Then this is the perfect manga for a slacker like you! Tokyo Flow Chart is (probably) the world’s first four-frame comic strip in flow chart format. It breaks down the complexities of life and aids in the mastery of brain skills such as flow-chart-manga comprehension or mental bullet-dodging. As Confusious (sic) say: “let your brain flow with the chart!”

Tokyo Flow ChartImpressions: Actual quote from a blurb at the beginning of the chapter: “The journey toward mastery of Brain Skills begins with a single step. In Chapter 1, we will learn basic flowcharting. First, observe that the flowcharts are organized in two ways: on dark ‘main routing’ lines, which connect frames along the main flowcharting route and on thinner subrouting lines, which connect frames along secondary flowchart routes. Reading these flowcharts is simple: Read along the main route until you reach the endpoint. Then return to the beginning and follow each subroute in turn.”

Translation: “These are 4-koma strips. You can either appreciate the first gag we came up with, or you can take one of the branching paths and hope you like one of the other gags instead.”

This, of course, brings back the whole “problem with 4-koma series/why this probably didn’t succeed” discussion from I Am A Turtle, except multiplied up to six times per strip with with a flowchart gimmick. And while it’s clear that artist Eiji Miruno deliberately draws each individual panel with multiple elements in them so that subsequent panels can riff on different elements, what’s less clear is his reasoning for choosing what he does. It can be the T-shirts the characters are wearing, a pigeon that happens to be walking in the background or even flavor crystals in concrete — it just ends up coming off rather funny, and not particularly in the “ha-ha” sense.

What’s the Answer? (Oct. 22, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: What do you get when you mix absurdity, surrealism, and potty humor, and serve it on a bed of wicked satire? The answer is … What’s the Answer? That’s the answer! Each chapter begins with a set-up question. Then you turn the pages to find out not one, not two, but three three (or five, or sometimes seven) possible punch lines. Can you handle the alternative comic alternatives?

What's the Answer?Impressions: If the question was “What’s the best way to get American audiences to read What’s the Answer? and get them to want more?” the correct answer probably should have been “great googly moogly, why are you even considering publishing What’s the Answer? KYAAAAAAH RUN FOR YOUR LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE BEFORE IT’S TOO LAAAAAAAATE.” In the single published installment that remains, we see a six-panel setup that sets up the question, “What does Santa do on the day before Christmas Eve?”  Then we get three answers: “Fabreeze,” “Preparing to risk his life again,” and “Shadow clone jutsu.”

That’s the chapter.

At least visitors to the Ikki site that week got new chapters of Saturn Apartments and Children of the Sea and an interview with Mr. Sato, the editor of Bokurano: Ours, so it wasn’t a completely wasted visit.

To its credit, that small snippet does deliver on the promised “absurdity, surrealism and potty humor.” Wicked satire, though? Doubt we’ll ever see that show up. In fact, the thought of an entire book filled with chapters like these has me recoiling a bit in horror — sure, there’s a chance that there were better examples of artist Tondabayashi’s humor, but there’s also a greater chance that future installments were even more surreal and unintelligible to the average American reader. Perhaps in this case, the fact we never got anything else from this series was more the result of a mercy killing.

The Cel Shaded Report, 4/27: Child’s play, child’s day

May 5 is just around the corner, and while the numbers of those giant koinobori wind socks that flapped on virtually every street corner when I was growing up seem to have dwindled in recent years, there’s no denying that the traditional Japanese celebration of Boys Children’s Day is coming right along with that date.

But we’re all busy people these days. You don’t want to wait until May 5. You want to celebrate the boys children now. Fortunately, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii has you covered, with the Kodomo no Hi: Keiki Fun Fest taking place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Several groups with ties to the local anime/manga fan community will be there, including MangaBento, the artist group that’ll be bringing along a bunch of arts and crafts for people to work on; Kawaii Kon, offering information on next year’s convention; and HEXXP, offering information on their event this year. (I also have it on good authority that there’s going to be an announcement of the Next Big Thing for HEXXP at the event. It’s so big, you may want to tell your world about it. Just sayin’.) NGN will be screening Doraemon and Anpanman, and Hello Kitty will be one of several mascots wandering the aisles.

Also scheduled for the event: live entertainment, demonstrations, a craft fair, food, prize giveaways and the always fun, off-the-charts-in-cuteness keiki kimono dressing booth. As of yesterday, there were still slots available; cost is $75 ($60 if you’re a JCCH member), and includes the kimono and accessories, dressing by Masako Formals staff and the King Photo Service portrait-sitting fee. (Hair and makeup are not included, and the photos are extra.) Reserve a spot by calling Derrick Iwata at 945-7633, ext. 25.

The cultural center is at 2454 S. Beretania St. in Moiliili; for more information, visit the Kodomo no Hi Facebook page.

Anime around town

The idkwhat2wear gang will be selling buttons, T-shirts and more at the Moanalua High School Spring Craft Fair, Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the school, 2825 Ala Ilima St. Normally this is the part where I’d mention something about where to go for more information, but seeing as how “more information” doesn’t seem to exist anywhere on the Intarwebz, I’ll just offer two pieces of advice: One, if you want to park on campus, show up several hours before the parking lot gates open at 8 a.m. And two, bring an empty stomach. The food stuffs they sell on campus? Deeeelicious.

    The Cel Shaded Report, 4/11: Pen and ink words

    Remember last week’s Cel Shaded Report, where I mentioned that AniMaid Cafe Hawaii was taking applications for volunteers? It’s over. Thanks for applying, take care, drive home safely, perhaps we’ll do this again next year.

    The preceding 35 words could well have constituted the shortest Cel Shaded Report ever, but fortunately there’s another matter of immediate importance to discuss here, something you artsy types will want to jump on right away. Through Friday afternoon, nemu*nemu artist Audra Furuichi isn’t just serving up new installments of the plush pup online comic; over at the nemu*blog, she’s offering commentary on some of her favorite writing and drawing tools and giving visitors a chance to get some of their own with a $25 gift certificate to JetPens.com, home to a large catalog of art supplies imported from Japan and Germany.

    Interested? Here’s all you have to do: Since yesterday and running through Friday, Audra will be writing one post a day that highlights some of the brands she likes to use in drawing nemu*nemu. In yesterday’s post, for example, she talked about her favorite brush pens. Today, she’s looking at coloring tools. Just leave a comment about what your favorite brands are in relation to the topic of the day — or which brands you’d love to have — and that’s it! You’re entered. Easy peasy. If you’d like to increase your chances of winning, just leave comments on all four posts; you can get one entry per post, for a maximum of four entries. One winner, to be drawn at 5 p.m. Hawaii time Friday (8 p.m. Pacific, 11 p.m. Eastern, for those of you reading this blog in other time zones *waves*), will win the gift certificate.

    Even if the extent of your artistic creativity is figuring out whether to use a smile or a frown on your stick figure drawing, Audra’s posts offer some neat insight into the making of nemu*nemu. And when you put it all of these techniques together, you get something like this, a commission I received as part of the recent nemu*nemu vol. 6 Kickstarter drive.

    With a Mr. Buns cameo!

    That’s Nemu, Enchilada and the Star-Advertiser’s own Blue, three “generations” of plush pups. All I told here was to use those three characters and use the theme of “festivals,” and that’s what she came up with. I see that every day sitting on my work desk. Still get a thrill looking at it every time. It is awesome.

    Get ready for Kawaii Kon … again!

    Hard to believe that we’re almost a month removed from this year’s Kawaii Kon, but, as the closing ceremonies proved, convention officials aren’t wasting any time getting attendees hyped up for the next show. After an April Fool’s joke newsletter placed Kawaii Kon 2012-1/2 in Cordoba, Spain, in late October (darn, and I was so ready to get my passport papers in order and whip up an Enchilada costume to get ready to cover it … but only if it didn’t conflict with HEXXP, because, come on, there’s Nobuo Uematsu and the World Cosplay Summit in my virtual back yard, man!), the real newsletter revealed some information about preregistration for 2013 for people who didn’t already do so at this year’s convention.

    The day that preregistration is happening is fast approaching. It opens online on Sunday, in fact. For the time being, prices will be set at $38 for general admission three-day passes (for ages 12 and up), and $30 for three-day passes for children ages 6 to 12. If you want a lifetime pass, prices of those are now up to $850. You can pick up those at kawaiikon2013.eventbrite.com.

    While you can’t preregister until Sunday, there are a few con-related things you can work on now, if you’re so inclined. The annual Mascot Art Contest, running through midnight Hawaii time April 27, is currently accepting entries; just draw one, two or all three of the Kawaii Kon mascots — Nami, Takeshi and Ai-chan — in traditional or digital media. The artist whose entry is deemed most representative of the mascots and the Kawaii Kon spirit will win a three-day pass to Kawaii Kon 2013. Find complete rules and how to enter pieces at  www.kawaii-kon.org/community/kawaii-kon-2012-art-contest-rules/.

    Applications for panels for next year’s event are also being accepted now. If you’ve ever wanted to lead a spirited hour-long discussion over, say, whether Pokemon Red/Blue or Pokemon Black/White had the better debuting bunch of Pokemon, now’s your chance. (For the record: It has to be Red/Blue. Jigglypuff, Chansey and Psyduck for the win, people.) If you and a co-host can figure out a way to fill three hours’ worth of con programming, you both could also receive complimentary three-day passes for your efforts.

    Kawaii Kon is March 15-17; visit www.kawaii-kon.org.

    Anime around town

    Aiea Library Anime Club: 3 p.m. Saturday at the library, 99-143 Moanalua Road. This month, librarian Diane Masaki will be screening the first four episodes of Fairy Tail. For more information or to RSVP, call 483-7333 or e-mail aiealibraryanimeclub@yahoo.com.

    The Cel Shaded report, 4/6: AniMaid-ed conversation

    Perhaps there’s someone out there — maybe even someone like you? — who’d like to join in on the fun. Well, it’s your lucky day — AniMaid Cafe Hawaii is now accepting applications for new volunteers.

    I’ve been doing my fair share of thinking about maid cafes recently. A lot of it has to do with that Kawaii Kon preview article I wrote profiling the UH Cosplay Cafe, but there’s also the fact that I’ve had the song “Mune Mune Kyun” earwormed into my brain ever since I tuned into one of those KZOO Sunday shows featuring K-chan and some of the AniMaid Cafe Hawaii workers. Never heard of “Mune Mune Kyun”? Well, here you go. (Warning: Extreme cuteness and high likelihood of earworming similar to mine ahead.)

    Perhaps there’s someone out there — maybe even someone like you? — who’d like to join in on the fun. Well, it’s your lucky day —  AniMaid Cafe Hawaii is now accepting applications for new volunteers. Some of the standards, for those of you who don’t feel inclined to click through at the moment:

    • Must be 18 years old and/or older
    • Must attend all mandatory meetings/training
    • Must provide your own maid/host uniform
    • Must have reliable transportation to/from meetings and the event venue
    • Must send at least two pictures of yourself (pictures must not be be hosted on social media accounts like Facebook or MySpace)

    But let’s say you’re more a fan of the maids and hosts rather than someone who wants to be among their ranks. There’s something for you, too — the AniMaid art contest is now open for entries. Draw, paint or sculpt your favorite maid or host and post your creation on the group’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/AniMaidHawaii — and yes, the page is viewable to those who have thus far successfully resisted the siren call to join Facebook). Winners will receive a personalized card from his or her favorite maid or host as well as a photo and a special “mystery prize.” Just be sure to keep your work clean — PG-13 or cleaner, please. For the kids. I couldn’t find any ending date for this contest, so I’ll just say for now that the sooner you send in your entries, the better.

    World Cosplay Summit rolls out rules

    World Cosplay Summit USA logoWhile we’re on the subject of HEXXP, further details have emerged about the World Cosplay Summit regional qualifier at the event in October. A lot of further details. An over-2,500-word Facebook post worth of further details. It only serves to reinforce how this competition is leagues beyond your garden-variety cosplay contest, and just how much participants are going to have to step up their games to even be in the running. Consider some of these basic requirements:

    • Contestants must enter as teams of two people, with a single series, performance plans (2 minutes and 30 seconds maximum, please) and props chosen beforehand. That series must have origins in Japan — sorry, Disney, Star Wars, Marvel and DC fans. And even with the Japanese series, there are restrictions — while costumes from Shueisha series like One Piece, Bleach, Death Note, Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh! are allowed in the preliminary rounds, they won’t be allowed in the finals. (Here’s Anime News Network’s comprehensive list of Shueisha series as a guide. There are … many.)
    • Participants must be at least 18 years old as of Feb. 14, 2013.
    • Each participant must submit a resume that includes  — take a deep breath here — full legal name, cosplay alias, group name, age, date of birth, gender, home address, contact number and email, whether you have a passport, your intended costume and series, cosplay website (if applicable), a history of major costumes and awards, a few sentences about why you love to cosplay, and four photos of your favorite costumes with explanations of why they are your favorites. Each team must also include a team photo, a brief team biography and the general idea for the performance.

    The upside to knowing all of this now is that there’s plenty of time for teams to form and prepare their materials. The resume-collecting process for the Midwest qualifier, at Colossalcon in Sandusky, Ohio, June 7-10, opened March 30 and runs through May 11. I’m only roughly speculating here, but if we go by that timetable, that would mean resume collection for HEXXP will probably start sometime in July. This is something you probably don’t want to leave to the last minute, though. And I can’t emphasize enough: You’ll want to read through all the rules carefully to get everything in order by then. Again, here’s the link: http://www.facebook.com/notes/world-cosplay-summit-preliminaries-united-states/wcs-us-2013-preliminary-circuit-rules/422987357716872.

    Anime around town

    MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. Visit www.manga-bento.com.

    The Cel Shaded Report, 3/29: A sketching situation

    pen and ink works logo

    One of the neat things about local anime and manga fandom is how it’s spawned an entire generation of people eager to whip out their sketchbooks and draw things inspired by the series that they love. I’ve seen that talent manifest itself in the Liliha Library Anime Art Contest for the past two years now, MangaBento’s art exhibits, and the Artist Alley at Kawaii Kon and HEXXP, and the art’s been really, really nice.

    Well, it’s time once again to nurture that talent. Pen & Ink Works has a neat event coming up from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday to do just that — a Sketch Meet where artists can hang out, participate in some drawing games and trade tips with one another. All you need is a sketchbook, some drawing materials (naturally), a mat or a towel … and some good walking shoes. Some sunscreen may be in order as well.

    For while the event will be starting off in front of Shirokiya — Ala Moana, second floor, just look for them somewhere between the entrance to Macy’s and the KZOO studio — they’ll be migrating eventually to Magic Island, across the street. By the way, for the curious, as of this writing the National Weather Service forecast is for mostly sunny conditions with a 20 percent chance of showers, breezy and a high near 75. So unless you have to spend the afternoon, say, in an office working on polishing up the next day’s news for the people (sadly raises hand), it sounds like a creative, lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon and take in another nice day here on the island.

    Learn more about Pen & Ink Works at peninkworks.wordpress.com or their Facebook page.

    nakamaboko2Writing about this Sketch Meet also reminded me that I have yet to discuss in this space MangaBento’s upcoming exhibit, “Nakamaboko: Working Together.” Scheduled to run from June 12 through July 14, the exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art School (formerly the Academy Art Center at 1111 Victoria St.) will feature art pieces in various media (drawings, paintings, sculptures, photos, costumes and the like) that are inspired by anime and manga. To that end, the group will be accepting community submissions.  Most of the deadlines are in May — and I’ll include reminders in this space as we approach those deadlines — but if you want to get a head start and mail something in now, you can do so. Send your pieces in by May 23 to:

    Devin Oishi
    Art Instructor
    Kaimuki High School
    2705 Kaimuki Ave.
    Honolulu, HI 96816

    Be sure to include your name; age; school and teacher (if applicable); whether you’re a pro, amateur, or student; address; phone number; email address; and a sale price if you want to sell your piece. A complete rundown of requirements is available at the Nakamaboko page at www.manga-bento.com.

    Walking in rhythm, singing his song

    walking man coverToday’s profile: The Walking Man (1 volume)
    Publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
    Age rating
    : N/A
    Buying it: Good luck — the publisher’s online shop shows no purchase links available, and Amazon’s listing shows copies starting from the amazingly low, low price of $67.20. (Keep in mind, this thing’s cover price is $16.99.) Best bet may be to hope it pops up at a used bookstore.

    This month’s Manga Movable Feast, hosted by Ed Sizemore over at Manga Worth Reading, focuses on the hidden treasures of artist Jiro Taniguchi. I call them “hidden treasures” because unlike last month’s MMF-featured artist, Osamu Tezuka, you’ll hardly ever walk into a store and find books by him sitting on the shelves (at least, not here in the islands, anyway). Granted, there were a handful of his titles that Borders picked up — that’s how I learned of the joys of A Distant Neighborhood — but, well, we all know where Borders ended up. His most accessible work at the moment, aside from what pops in and out of print on Amazon, may well be Kodoku no Gourmet, the manga he worked on with Masayuki Kusumi about a lone gourmet enjoying the delights at local restaurants and ramen shops that’s available on JManga.com.

    Shame, really. Because if there’s anything A Distant Neighborhood and another series I’ve briefly addressed in this space, Summit of the Gods, taught me, it’s that Taniguchi is a mangaka worth following. Looking at the lineup of MMF pieces reminds me of all the books I’ve heard of but never had the opportunity to read yet — The Times of Botchan, The Quest for the Missing Girl, A Zoo in Winter, just to name a few.

    To really capture the essence of Taniguchi, though, one needs only to experience The Walking Man. Yes, you could just replace “experience” with “read” in the last sentence. But then you’d be glazing over the whole point of looking at this book.

    The premise is as stated in the title: There’s this guy — I’d peg him to be a middle-aged businessman — and he walks around. A lot. Repeat this over 155 pages, and that’s the book. It’s like those installments of “The Family Circus” in the Sunday comics where one of the kids wanders around from point A to point B with a dotted line tracing his convoluted path, except these journeys unfold frame by frame in intricate manga storytelling style.

    It sounds incredibly dull. And for the manga reader who expects something, anything to happen to the characters they’re reading about other than “they exist,” it is. Heck, we learn more about the man’s dog (his name is Snowy!) than we do about the man himself (his name is [fill in the blank here with whatever you wish, there are no right or wrong answers]!) Here’s the essence of the first seven chapters:

    • Man meets bird watchers
    • It snows
    • Man explores town
    • Man climbs tree
    • It rains
    • Man skinny-dips
    • It storms

    Throw in the phrase “Walking Man summary” and add in a few punctuation marks, and you could actually fit that into a single tweet with a few characters to spare. (Yes, I actually checked this.)

    But The Walking Man isn’t meant for those people looking for action-oriented thrills. Rather, its target audience is really those who are able to find beauty in the seemingly mundane. Like I said in my look at A Distant Neighborhood, Taniguchi’s strengths are in rendering the intricacies of a particular scene and generating empathy for his characters. Whatever the man experiences in this book, we experience as well. If he feels like getting off a bus and walking to the top of a small hill, basking in the breezes and noting a marker where the altitude is exactly that of the peak of Mount Fuji, then we follow right along with him. When a wayward ball knocks off his glasses and he accidentally steps on them, Taniguchi shows us his blurred world view when he isn’t wearing them, and the fractured view when he is.

    Devoid of any plot to concentrate on, we’re free to focus instead on the details with which Taniguchi has populated this man’s world — the stranger with whom our unnamed protagonist silently bonds on one walk, the wayward elderly lady and the children playing their recorders in the streets on another, the “sklunk!” of a can of coffee dropping from a vending machine. Thus the reason why I wrote earlier that The Walking Man is more to be experienced than to be read becomes clearer: The reason why this book appears at first glance to be about nothing from a storytelling standpoint is because “nothing” is exactly what Taniguchi wanted us to embrace. The man clearly has an identity and a job that keeps him busy, but that doesn’t matter; we’re always seeing him unplugged from that, walking somewhere, enjoying whatever life happens to present to him on a particular day.

    This manga may have been released in 1992 in Japan and around 2004 in the U.S., but its message may be even more relevant in the information-dense, go-go-go environment of 2012: Relax. Take a walk. Enjoy life. That’s what’s most important.

    Amazon’s listing shows copies starting from the amazingly low, low price of $67.20. (Keep in mind, this thing’s cover price is $16.99.)

    The Cel Shaded Report, 3/22: Countdown 358 days

    If you wanted any indication of how wildly successful Kawaii Kon was this year, all you needed to do was look at the closing ceremonies.

    Yes, this means we’re continuing our ongoing Kawaii Kon retrospective by jumping straight to the end of it. Yes, I realize that this is a bit like reading part of the beginning of a book, then flipping ahead to see how it all ends, then going back to where you left off to see how everything unfolds. But when you get a turnout like this, you can understand why I’d want to get to talking about this right away.

    closing crowd

    That’s a view of the audience at this year’s closing ceremonies. What you have to realize is that past ceremonies have been rather staid affairs — the guests say their final goodbyes, there’s a Q&A/feedback session that’s either quick and painless (“We have online forums! Please share your opinions there!”) or long and excruciatingly painful to sit through (“Can you repeat the question? We can’t hear you from up here!”), and, in recent years, con co-administrator Angel Rumbaoa and some staff members have done a dance number. Here, in fact, is a picture of Rumbaoa getting ready to perform in this year’s number.

    angel

    There were, indeed, animal costumes involved. And K-pop.

    This year, though, felt more like a party, the crowning celebration of a whirlwind weekend. There were 6,077 people who attended Kawaii Kon this year, an attendance increase for the seventh straight year. Think about it: Ever since the convention began in 2005, attendance has never dropped. This despite the fact that the anime industry’s down, the manga industry’s down, there really isn’t any single overwhelmingly popular series that people are following at the moment, and the number of places where fans can buy anime and manga locally has dropped off dramatically. Shows you what kind of community we have here out on a rock in the middle of the Pacific that can perpetuate itself like that.

    kawaii-kon-logoTo keep the party going, there were two announcements made:

    • Kawaii Kon 2013 will be held March 15-17, once again at the Convention Center. If memory serves, this is the first time we’ve ever known the date of next’s year’s con immediately coming out of this year’s con. The timing has once again been placed to coincide with spring break — why change what served so well this year, after all?
    • The first guest for next year is voice actor and Kawaii Kon first-timer Todd Haberkorn, who’s had a number of prominent roles over the years: Allen Walker in D.Gray Man, Italy in Hetalia Axis Powers, Keisuke Takahashi in Initial D, Keroro in Sgt. Frog and Kimihiro Watanuki in xxxHolic among them.

    Online preregistration isn’t available yet, but keep checking back at www.kawaii-kon.org for whenever that goes live. I’ll also post a heads-up on my Twitter feed and here on the blog when that happens.

    Anime around town

    Aiea Library Anime Club: 3 p.m. Saturday at the library, 99-143 Moanalua Road. This month, librarian Diane Masaki will be screening Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance. For more information or to RSVP, call 483-7333 or e-mail aiealibraryanimeclub@yahoo.com.

    MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. Visit www.manga-bento.com.

    World Cosplay Summit road goes through HEXXP

    And now, here’s my summary of Kawaii Kon 2012, as told by one file folder on my computer:

    Photos. Panel recordings. Videos. Aieeeeeeee.

    … yeeeeeaaaaah. Those files are going to take a while to sort through. More reports will have to wait for a future date, though, because there’s so much to cover in the short term — news on Kawaii Kon 2013, highlights from the Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Showcase schedule (Ace Attorney, yaaaaaay), this month’s Manga Movable Feast on the works of Jiro Taniguchi.

    Then there’s the latest news coming out of the Hawaii Entertainment Expo (HEXXP) camp. The convention, which already made a splash earlier this month by announcing Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu and his band, the Earthbound Papas, as a guest of honor for this year’s event, recently pulled off another coup, landing a preliminary round for the World Cosplay Summit in 2013. To make things official, here’s an introductory video from WCS-USA organizer Laura Butler and assistant organizer Lynleigh Sato:

    … as well as a link to a second Hawaii-themed video that they made.

    The annual World Cosplay Summit is a big deal. Think of it as being like your typical anime convention cosplay showcase or masquerade, except with a bazillion times more prestige and featuring only the absolute best of the best cosplayers from around the world. The event began in 2003 with five cosplayers representing three countries (Italy, Germany and France); this year, 16 countries are listed as participants. Ever since a competition was established in 2005, though, the United States has won the same number of world championships as the Chicago Cubs have in 103 years: Zero. (Brazil’s won three times, Italy twice, and France and Japan have one title apiece.)

    The winner of the Honolulu competition will move on to the U.S. finals at Katsucon in the Washington, D.C. metro area next February, and the winner from that will head out to Nagoya, Japan to represent the ol’ stars ‘n’ stripes at the summit. Suffice it to say it’ll take more than a set of Pikachu pajamas to win this competition. You may want to get started on that competition-grade costume, umm, now.

    HEXXP will take place Oct. 20-21 at the Aloha Tower Marketplace; for more information or to register, visit www.hexxp.com. Also, a side note on registration: There are now monthly prize drawings for those who have already preregistered for a two-day pass. This month’s prizes are a gift certificate for a two-hour session at Karaoke GS Studio and a $40 gift certificate for Minato Japanese Restaurant. Also, there are 12 of the $100 VIP passes remaining, so if you’re interested, you’ll want to jump on that soon.

    [Kawaii Kon 2012] The year of the cat

    kawaii-kon-logoThis is the eighth year I’ve covered Kawaii Kon in some way, and in that time I’ve seen many trends come and go. Back in 2005, everyone seemed to be cosplaying as Naruto characters. Then there were the Inu-Yasha and Fullmetal Alchemist years, the year that every fifth person seemed to be wearing the powder blue school uniforms of Ouran High School and its Host Club, and the year Hetalia ruled the world.. There were the “Hare Hare Yukai” and “Motteke! Sailor Fuku” years. Nyan Cat and Leekspin made appearances. Every guest was asked one year whether they’d like to try a Spam musubi. Things like that.

    I think I can say that this year’s trend, though, as laid out in the opening ceremonies, may be the most inexplicable of all.

    Meet Magician Kaulana, local illusionist and emcee extraordinaire. From what I can gather, he’s the one who launched the trend last year.

    IMG_8124

    Meet Lisa Ortiz, the voice of Lina Inverse in Slayers. She’s holding the focal point of this trend: a plush kitten.

    IMG_8160

    And apparently the objective, as best as I can figure it out, is to punch out the kitten, but to find a humorous way to do so. The person who manages to make the judges (yes, there are also judges involved!) laugh the most at closing ceremonies will win a fabulous prize. To illustrate this, Ortiz went all out, acting like she wanted to save it, yet getting upset when it “whispered” awful things in her ear and eventually punting it from one end of the stage to another. The kitten would make more cameo appearances throughout the day on the large video screens on each side of the day. Attendees were waving around different plush cats — well, okay, what they were waving around may not have been “plush cats” as they were “giant circular blobs of cute with cat ears on them” in front of the cameras as well. Even Erika Engle — yes, that Erika Engle, intrepid Star-Advertiser Buzz-er — noted that the most commented-on feature at her Artist Alley table was a single, not-for-sale decorative ornament: a small cat, curled up in a basket.

    Umm. Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaah.

    I know that several times in recent years, I’ve wondered if I’m getting too old for this. This … may be another tipping point.

    But while I may not necessarily understand what’s going on, many other people do, and they’re really digging it. That’s what’s important at Kawaii Kon, really: finding your little niche and having as much fun with it as you possibly can. And my little niche, discovered last night in the video game room, is definitely hard-core old-school.

    mspacman

    Yes, that’s a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table machine. I think the last time I saw one of these babies was at the Pearlridge Fun Factory in the early ’80s. Sure, the monitor’s out of focus. But there are several variants of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man to choose from to make up for it.

    And here’s an actual, honest-to-God Discs of Tron upright machine.

    tron

    I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those. Best part? Both of these machines are set on free play. I could probably stay there all day, if not for the fact that, y’know, there’s an entire rest-of-the-convention to cover.

    And so we head into day 2, typically the busiest day at the con. Coming up here in Otaku Ohana, tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. will chime in with her report on Friday’s panels featuring voice actors Ryo Horikawa and Kenichi Miya, and I’ll show off some of the pretty artwork that’s up for auction at this year’s silent and live auctions. And maybe, just maybe, if you’re all good, I’ll show you how this picture relates to what I’m doing today.

    Pekepekepeke desu ka? Ne, sugoi desu ne.

    Stick around.

    The Cel Shaded Report, 3/16: Once more into the fray

    kawaii-kon-logoKawaii Kon. This weekend. Suuuuuuper busy.

    Need I say any more?

    … well, okay, I was tempted to just post that and call it a day, but that would be unfair to you, the few, proud (I hope?) Otaku Ohana readers who keep checking your RSS feeds, Twitter or Facebook to see if I’ve posted anything new.

    Yet there’s no denying that this weekend will be a busy one, packed with panels and events and wacky spur-of-the-moment happenings and other weird and wonderful stuff that the local fan community seems to come up with every year. And while tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. and I will be trying to provide a cross-section of coverage of everything going on at Kawaii Kon here in Otaku Ohana all weekend (energy and Internet connections willing), there are some events on the schedule that are particularly piquing our interest. So we each picked three panels/events that we’re most looking forward to this weekend. If you’re having trouble figuring out what you want to do out of everything going on, you can’t go wrong with these suggestions, really.

    Jason’s top 3

    1. Anything featuring voice actress Yuu Asakawa. She’s the voice of Sakaki in Azumanga Daioh and Motoko in Love Hina. She sings. She co-hosts Otaku-VerseZero, the show “introducing the Japanese subculture to Otaku throughout the Universe,” with Otaku USA editor Patrick Macias. And she’s on Twitter — and tweeting regularly in English, to boot. Her multimedia versatility has me interested in seeing what she has to say. Plus there’s no denying that whenever guests come out to Hawaii, they end up loving the place … and Asakawa’s already said on Twitter that she’s looking forward to coming here. Hopefully her experience exceeds her expectations. “The Journey of Yuu Asakawa” panel, 5 p.m. Friday; “Work of a Seiyuu,” 10 a.m. Saturday; “Behind the Music,” 11 a.m. Sunday. Autograph signings: 11 a.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

    2. “Introduction of E-manga: Magical Dreamers.” We’ve been seeing an increasing number of digital manga initiatives lately, and we’re not just talking about the publisher that actually has the phrase as part of its name, Digital Manga Publishing. NTT Solmare, Jmanga, Yen Press and Viz are some of the more notable enterprises as of late. But those are all digital versions of existing print manga. Magical Dreamers, by contrast, is being touted as “the world’s first e-manga,” and so far it comes with the following bullet points:

    • For iOS and Android devices
    • Full Japanese and English audio recorded by voice actors including Ryo Horikawa, Chris Sabat, Brina Palencia and Monica Rial
    • Ability to switch between Japanese and English voice and text
    • Available April 2012

    That, along with this image that’s surfaced with all the information I shared above, is pretty much all we have in English. If you know Japanese, maybe you can get more out of this official site than I can. Will we get more details like (a) what the story is and (b) how much it’ll cost? We shall see. 4 p.m. Saturday.

    3. The Eleven Staples concert. I already covered this in my Kawaii Kon preview in TGIF — go check out that, and my profile on the Cosplay Cafe presented by UH students, out for free on Honolulu Pulse — but to recap the news that certainly made my jaw drop when I saw it: According to singer Erin Tamura, this will be the band’s final bow at the con. So will this be a send-off in style? You better believe it. 11 a.m. Saturday.

    Wilma’s top 3

    1. Anything featuring artist Yoshitaka Amano. I’ve loved his work since I first saw it in the Final Fantasy series, and that appreciation expanded to his work in the Vampire Hunter D series. he has a very ethereal style that I like. I know many people don’t care for his ultra-effeminate style of drawing people, but what I like most is the way he draws expressions on his people’s faces. They’re often sad or apprehensive, and I think he captures that very well. I’m also interested in hearing him talk about his life, his work, where he gets his inspiration and how he developed his drawing style — basically everything you’ve ever wanted to know about your favorite artist. “Face to Face” panel, 4 p.m. Friday; “Art is Life” panel: 10 a.m. Sunday.

    2. Live Drawing with Yoshitaka Amano: Also a must-see. I’ve seen a video that someone shot of Amano drawing live at Comic-Con in San Diego in 2010:

    It’s always great to see an artist work. You can marvel at how they’ve developed their style. (And stick around for the last character he draws, too!) Noon Saturday.

    3. Ryo Horikawa and Kenichi Miya. Case Closed is one of my favorite manga, and although I haven’t watched the anime much, it’s still thrilling to have one of its major voice actors as a guest here. The bonus is that he’s the voice of Reinhard von Lohengramm, the main character in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a show that my fiance is totally crazy about.  So it’s exciting for both of us to have him here.

    I’m also interested in hearing Ryo speak. His range of voices is incredible, from the soft mildness of  Andromeda Shun in Saint Seiya, to the calm yet tough and passionate Reinhard, to the deep gruffness of Vegeta — he has an amazing range.

    As for Miya? I have to admit I’m interested in him for curiosity’s sake. Not much has been said about him, so I’d like to hear him describe his career and the roles he’s done. 11:30 a.m. Friday.