By Brigid Alverson
Every year, five manga are nominated for Will Eisner Awards in their own category, "Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia," and this year, several were nominated in other categories as well. Since the Eisner judges usually have pretty good taste, the nominations make a good list of suggestions for readers who are looking for something new. With that in mind, here's a quick look at this year's nominees, with links to a review for each one.
Tezuka could do caper stories and literary works with equal ease; this is one of the latter, a fat novel about a deeply flawed family set in the aftermath of Japan's defeat in World War II. A piggish patriarch wields the promise of his vast land-holdings to keep his oldest son in check—and continue to extract sexual favors from his wife. The other children are working on opposite sides of the political divide: a soldier returned from the war and now acting as a spy for the occupiers, and a daughter who is a member of the nascent labor movement. Tezuka's art is just gorgeous, and the characters are complex and believable, although the story takes a number of baroque turns.
What the reviewer said: Kate Dacey says, "It isn’t Tezuka’s best work, but it’s one of his most ambitious, a sincere and emotionally wrenching attempt to show the lingering effects of World War II on the Japanese psyche."
This manga, on the other hand, is pure fun, more TV sitcom than Tolstoy. The premise isn't all that original: A bumbling bachelor finds himself suddenly taking care of a six-year-old girl. It certainly is a light read, but it's also a good one, thanks to Unita's storytelling skills. The characters are solid and believable, and we get to see their relationship gradually deepen even as a mystery unfolds in the background. Unita's simple, linear artwork makes this book accessible to readers who aren't fans of stylized or overly complicated manga.
What the reviewer said: In my review of Bunny Drop, I wrote, "Bunny Drop follows the becoming-a-family formula but avoids the traps of cuteness, moe, and broad physical comedy, opting instead for a more nuanced story of a developing relationship."
The ten short stories in this book display a surprising range, from the simple to the complex, but all are held together by Hagio's beautiful artwork. Hagio writes for young girls, and some of the stories are trite: In "The Willow Tree," the tree is the spirit of a dead mother, lovingly watching her son grow up. On the other hand, some are complex and thought-provoking, like "Iguana Girl," in which a mother is convinced her daughter is an iguana.
What the reviewer said: Christopher Mautner says, "The two best stories — ”Iguana Girl” and “Hanshin: Half God” — are able to convey the sense of loss and longing by tempering them with a bit of comedy and deep sympathy for and understanding of their protagonists. In stories like these, it becomes very clear how and why Hagio has earned the lofty reputation she has."
Akitsu is a samurai without a master, and his chances of getting a gig look slim because he simply isn't intimidating enough (although he is a skilled fighter). So when a man named Yaichi offers him a job, Akitsu jumps at the chance and doesn't realize until it's too late that he is working for a gang of outlaws. House of Five Leaves has a lot more brooding and a lot less fighting than your standard samurai manga.
What the reviewer said: Lissa Pattillo says the first volume is "best enjoyed with a cup of tea on a rainy day. It's a nice, easygoing read with an atmosphere that achieves an air of melancholy without the bog-down angst."
This series was nominated in a number of categories and justly so. It's a tightly plotted, skillfully drawn suspense story with a good dose of heart to it as well. The premise sucks you right in: A shadowy cult is re-enacting the childhood games of a group of boys, and one of the boys, Kenji, now approaching 30, is the only one with the brains and knowledge to stop their doomsday plans—just as he and his friends saved the earth in their imaginations when they were ten years old. It's a great theme with all sorts of layers and subplots, and Urasawa's expressive artwork and quirky characters make it a gripping read.
What the reviewer said: Kate Dacey says, "The key to Urasawa’s success? A strong script with vivid characters and a clear sense of purpose, reassuring the reader that all the plot strands are just that: strands, not loose threads."
This book, which was nominated not as an import but in the Best Anthology category, is the only nominee that I haven't read at least some of, so I'm just going to note that the publisher, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, is noted for the high literary and production quality of their books, and this one seems to be no exception. Of course, anthologies tend to have a lot of variation in quality, and I recommend Greg McElhatton's review of the book, as he considers each story individually.
This manga, which is based on Hal Clement's sci-fi classic Needle, was nominated in the Best Adaptation from Another Work category. Tadano keeps Clement's basic concept—an alien detective takes makes an unwitting human its host and the two form a symbiotic pair who hunt down an enemy, the Maelstrom. The host in Tadano's story is a rebellious Japanese teenage girl, Hikaru, and Tadano intertwines the search for the Maelstrom with her awkward high-school existence.
What the reviewer said: Joy Kim says, "7 Billion Needles is an inspired combination of hard science fiction (the alien invasion plot) and your familiar high school manga story (Hikaru’s social predicament). The science fiction elements are suspenseful and sharply drawn. Tadano captures the horror of the story’s events–such as Hikaru’s first death and Maelstrom’s killing sprees–in striking but not completely gratuitous detail. As a result, Hikaru’s predicaments are scary without being unreadable."