Beauty In The Box

AyakoLet’s face it. If you’re reading this, you don’t need an introduction to Osamu Tezuka. You know already know who he is and you know why he’s important. Like the critically acclaimed Message To Adolf, Ayako is the godfather of manga at his best. This gorgeous paperback edition of Ayako comes in at just under 700 pages; making this artistically rich and complex work more than a bang for you buck. With Tezuka’s descriptive art and his subtle nuanced writing both at their its peak, Ayako is a work of manga mastery, plain and simple.

The story of Ayako itself centers around one girl named Ayako, who’s had a very unfortunate upbringing, to say the least, and her sizeable. She herself is the result of illicit relations between the family head and one of his daughter-in-laws, though she herself is unaware. Due to baring witness to a murder her communist-aligned brother committed, Ayako’s family locked her up in their basemen, in an attempt to make sure their dirty laundry never slipped out.  She remained there throughout her entire adolescence and doesn’t escape until she’s an adult. Her relationships, at times incestuous, with her various family members over the years set against the backdrop of post-war Japan, with a handful of deaths and conspiracies surrounding the family itself unraveling throughout, make up this harrowing graphic novel experience known as Ayako.

Out of his entire breadth of work published here in the US, Ayako possibly is the most mature of Osamu Tezuka’s masterpieces. A work that simultaneously both critiques the developing post-war Japanese society and speaks against some of the more restrictive elements of Japanese traditionalism, Ayako tells a dark story with perfect pacing and some haunting overtones. If you missed the hardcover release of Ayako a few years back, this new edition is a must. One of Tezuka’s absolute best works, it’s perfect for any established fan, someone needing an introduction, and the general graphic novel crowd alike.


Grey Men

The US may be months removed from the last election period and now more than a year away from Occupy Wall Street, but globally, as we see in Spain and across Europe unemployment and the social net are weighing heavy on the minds of millions across the world. And Vertical’s latest novel, Gray Men, details the plight of disenfranchised as they take back control of their own lives.

A fast-paced tale of revenge and empowerment, heinous crimes and heartless criminals—all set in contemporary Japan in the age of Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring. The story reveals the frustration and anger being felt by Japan’s younger generation, and how this is causing them to question everything that’s been taken for granted for decades — the politicians, the social hierarchy, the corporate culture, even the yakuza.

The book starts off by introducing a young man who’s decided to kill himself because he can’t stand being bullied anymore. Before Ryotaro can find a place to die, however, he’s confronted by a mysterious figure dressed all in gray. Ryotaro is talked out of taking his own life, and is recruited by Gray to help in a jewel heist, which will let him avenge the abuses he’s suffered. But as Ryotaro soon learns, Gray’s plan is more than just one simple robbery. It’s part of an elaborate scheme to take away from the “haves” and redistribute wealth and power to the “have-nots.”

Gray Men is as up-to-the-minute as a Twitter feed. But if Gray also reminds you of classic crusaders like Robin Hood or the Count of Monte Cristo, it’s not just a coincidence. Author Tomotake Ishikawa says that his writing has been influenced by such master storytellers as Alexandre Dumas.

Zero G-Love

Happy Valentine’s Day readers!

As a gift to the best manga fans in the English reading world we have two titles to share with you today. First is the debut of Vertical’s newest manga series, Knights Of Sidonia. The most recent work by renowned comicker and world-builder, Tsutomu Nihei, of Blame and Biomega fame. Fans of Nihei’s previous works won’t be let down by Knights Of Sidonia.

As an homage to the space operas of the past, Sidonia is a tale of the last of humanity struggling to survive while on the run. Trekking through space fighting off aliens who have destroyed most of their kind is rendered with love in Nihei’s unique and haunting visual style. Yet, unlike some of his earlier works, this manga is noticeably more cohesive and concentrated, paying plenty of attention to its characters and story. Here, Nagate Tanikaze, a young man who has lived his entire life up until the start of this story in isolation, is the newest soldier in the battle against a race of space giants called the Gauna. He is alone in this new world where humans now photosynthesize and new biological genders have come into play. Will lonely, passionate and hungry Nagate, be able to function within this futuristic society?

The idleness and desperation of space is portrayed to a subtle degree in Knights Of Sidonia, and it becomes increasingly haunting as it progresses. You’ll feel for the characters trying to get by day to day in this cold reality. Between the crippling loneliness of space and the nauseating alien life forms trying to kill everyone, Knights Of Sidonia makes for the perfect Valentines Day present. …Really.

Lessons Learned

With the holiday season in now deep in our collective rear-view mirrors, many of us are settling back into our regular routines. Some of us are returning to our 9-to-5 grinds, while the youth head on back to their familiar halls of learning with school now back in session. And school is on our minds here at Vertical this time of month as we release yet another volume of Toru Fujisawa’s GTO 14 Days in Shonan.

Certainly, we would all rather be along the shores of Shonan on spring break like Eikichi Onizuka, but would we want the work-related stress that comes with re-working the local education system? In this 7th volume Onizuka must continue to “educate” at the top of his game as the ongoing reign of tyranny from the seemingly undefeatable Oedipus Club finally reaches its dramatic conclusion. Though he may have prevented an act of arson in the last volume, what will happen when he’s the one starting the fire? With a little help from a few of the beloved classic GTO characters Onizuka lights up a storm that neither the Swan House nor the Oedipus Club will ever be able to forget. Also, when one Onizuka’s biggest fans from the original GTO meets Shinomi, his old The Early Years flame that never quite got over him, will Onizuka finally find love (or rather get laid) or more than likely, will this just spell out more trouble for our ludicrous blonde protagonist?

As is standard throughout the GTO series, lessons are learned the hard way. Whether they are taught through pranks gone awry or through fisticuffs and high-speed mayhem, Onizuka is generally more than happy to share some street smarts with the masses, young and old. And Vertical, while not capable of such acts of violence, would like to follow in the GTO’s footsteps to teach readers a bit about the diversity in Japanese pop-culture. Our lessons, presented in book form, will also end up with happy endings, but will cost much less than a trip to the hospital or juvenile hall…