Award winning mangaka Taiyo Matsumoto brings pathos and humanity to Tokyo These Days as he examines the idea of finding one’s purpose through the lens of manga publishing. This was easily the most interesting and compelling book I’ve read in a while and the layout feels very cinematic.
The first chapter is titled “Today I’m Retiring for Personal Reasons” and this convention carries throughout the rest of the book with the chapters titled like they are calendar or journal entries. We get a glimpse at the inner life of Shiozawa, a manga editor, as he reaches a personal and professional crossroad. We’ll see the larger affect he has on his environment and its inhabitants dealing with this decision and how it opens this story up.
We find Shiozawa getting ready for work and having a conversation with his pet bird, who tells him it’s sad he’s retiring (he understands birds, but it’s not commented on.) He’s been editing manga for 30 years, but his latest magazine folded and he feels responsible. He realizes he’s spent 230 days total on this particular train getting to and from work and the scope of how entirely his life revolves around the field of manga begins to overwhelm him. He goes to meet an old colleague and we learn about just how different they are.
Chosaku is an artist who smokes, drinks, is overweight and generally overindulges in all the ways Shiozawa doesn’t. The dichotomy of these two is reflected in the lives of the other characters we’ll meet, but the thing they have in common is how they have devoted their whole lives to manga and how drained they are. Chosaku is still going through the motions, but Shiozawa points out his books have lost their shine and his heart isn’t in it. He wants Chosaku’s work to shine again, he loved that work. The rest of this first volume shows these men dealing with their sense of purpose and direction, but they wind up influencing others around them.
Liliko Hayashi was a young editor who looked up to Shiozawa and seeks out his help with a troublesome artist, Aoki. Shiozawa used to edit his work before assigning him to Liliko and the relationship is in bad shape. She is frustrated by Aoki’s hollow work and terrible attitude. Aoki is frustrated by what he sees as her interference and lack of support. They both hope Shiozawa will intervene and help, but he has stepped back and no longer wants to be involved with the field.
Their development will mirror the affect Shiozawa has on others around him; everyone in his sphere winds up asking larger questions about their commitment to manga, art, their lives, their purpose and the future. Shiozawa eventually decides to try and make one last book, one perfect manga that is just for him. It doesn’t have to be successful, there is no publisher supporting him, he’s just putting his retirement money into this idea. He decides to recruit artists and creators whose work he loved, but some of them no longer work in manga and he needs to try and lure them back.
Describing this book as cinematic is to say that there are quiet moments where the story is allowed to breathe and the audience can sit in the emotional impact of what just happened. There are wide shots of the skyline or cityscape to show just how small Shiozawa feels. There are small, everyday occurrences that fill out the background and give the world a more textured and authentic feel. The art isn’t what I would describe as clean, but it is also very intentional and highly detailed. It is a believable, modern Tokyo illustrated here, and it is very much another character in the story.
Viz rated this book Teen, which I believe is the right designation for it, but I think older readers likely will experience the book differently and more fully. There is very little in the way of bad language and a character smokes. Outside of that there is nothing objectionable in this book and teen readers should have no trouble understanding this world. The emotional journey of the characters will likely land differently with adults who have experienced some of the adult life experiences the characters here reflect on. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to libraries that are looking for manga that isn’t action, adventure, love or mystery.
Tokyo These Days Vol 1 By Taiyo Matsumoto VIZ Signature, 2024 ISBN: 9781974738809
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
In Volume One, we learn that Hikaru is not what he seems when his best friend, Yoshiki, confronts him. It’s been six months since Hikaru went missing for a week. Yoshiki has been pretending everything is normal when he knows it is not. But he finally has the courage to ask who “Hikaru” really is.
The answer is that “Hikaru” doesn’t know exactly what he is, just that he took Hikaru’s body and has all of his memories. After an awkward conversation, Yoshiki decides that he still wants to be friends with this version of Hikaru. The reader follows the two as they explore their new friendship and feelings towards each other.
One day, Yoshiki runs into an adult woman who warns him that a terrible evil that used to keep other spirits our of their town has moved from its position within the forest. She can see that Yoshiki is somehow connected to it and cautions against further interactions. She gives him her number in case he wants to talk more about it and hints that she has some kind of experience with a similar situation.
In Volume Two, Yoshiki is concerned about some of the changes in his neighborhood and reaches out to the woman who warned him about continuing to be friends with Hikaru. Unfortunately, Hikaru finds out that Yoshiki is keeping secrets and overreacts when confronting Yoshiki with his feelings of abandonment. After the two reconcile, they work together to rid Yoshiki’s family’s bath of a wig monster and strengthen their bond over shared memories. And the reader learns more about their relationship from before as well as how Yoshiki knew about Hikaru’s secret identity.
This is a slow building horror story that contains elements of boys love. The pacing of the story is built around character development and the relationship between the two male characters. There are moments when the two are exploring their feelings for each other juxtaposed with Hikaru showing Yoshiki what he is. I mention the boys love aspect because of these interactions. It doesn’t look like this series is gearing up to be yaoi, which tends to be explicit sexual interactions; however, I found the two scenes (one in each book) where Hikaru invites Yoshiki to put his hand inside of his body akin to sexual activity even though it is not in the traditional sense. Trigger warnings include some body horror, death, and grief. Both volumes end in cliffhangers that are the middle of a scene. Volume two picks up right where volume one stopped and included context to reorient the reader.
The art style matches the slow building horror elements, using plenty of details in the characters and the backgrounds. The facial expressions capture a wide range of emotions from fear to wonder to frustration and understanding. Even the side character of a cat has great emotional range. Since the illustrations are all black and white, the creator used shading to convey things like nighttime, emotional turmoil, and the unknown entity that goes by Hikaru.
Not knowing what future volumes will include, I’d suggest placing this series in teen or adult collections and recommending it to mature readers that can handle the trigger warnings I’ve mentioned in this review. Fans of horror are going to love this series unless they are frustrated by the slower pace.
The Summer Hikaru Died By Liz Mokumokuren Yen Press, 2023 Vol 1 ISBN: 9781975360542 Vol 2 ISBN: 9781975371036
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Junji Ito’s Mimi’s Tales of Terror is an adaptation of Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama’s collection of urban legends, Shin Mimibukuro. Each of the tales in the original compilation is reworked by Ito and features Mimi, an original character. The book consists of nine stories featuring college student Mimi, a bonus tale introducing different protagonists, and two afterwords describing how he altered the tales. This is a treasure trove for those who are fans of Ito, horror, contemporary legends, and evocative and haunting illustrations.
The first tale “On the Utility Pole,” is only a few pages long and takes place in only a few minutes, during a car ride on a rainy dark night. It sets the stage for the spookiness that will follow in the rest of the collection. Several of the tales focus on Mimi’s various problems with her disturbing neighbours while offering relevant background about modern Japanese culture. In “The Woman Next Door,” Mimi is annoyed by her noisy neighbour, but soon realizes that the problem is much scarier than she anticipated. Mimi survives to feature in the next story, assuring the reader that she has moved to a different apartment building. The legend in this tale reminded me of the legend of “Teke Teke” because of the significance of the sound effects in both.
“Rustling in the Grass,” offers another horrific interlude for Mimi and her boyfriend, this time while they are walking in the woods. The story, like many legends, does not have a tidy conclusion…it just is! Mimi’s new apartment in the next tale, “Grave Placement,” also features an eccentric neighbour and an eerie setting. Obviously, Mimi needs to be more selective of her living arrangements. Mimi and her friends take a trip to the beach but, of course, things cannot be straightforward for her. In “Seashore” one of her friends is drawn to ghostly spectres that only he can see. One of the creepiest tales in the collection for me is “Just the Two of Us,” in which Mimi meets a child who is haunted by her mother’s burnt corpse. Through his illustrations and pacing, Ito conveys both dread and affection in this almost intimate tale. The next tale, “Scarlet Circle,” is also dreadfully affectionate, but not in a warm or comforting way. Mimi is the target of an extremely jealous classmate who wants Mimi’s boyfriend for herself. “Sign in the Field” is the final tale featuring Mimi and is the shortest one in the book. The images strongly echo those of the legendary Slender Man.
The first afterword is told through two pages of panels featuring Ito himself. It is followed by two coloured pages, one of which is the splash title page for the bonus story “Monster Prop.” Haunted house attractions can be very disturbing, but when it includes a very dubious monster prop, the attraction can be even more dangerous than anyone imagines. It is a perfect tale for Halloween and those who admire horror films. The collection concludes with a two-page written appreciation by Ito for the original material, the chance to introduce the bonus tale to the audience, and the work of art of the book itself.
I must admit that I purchased this hardcover volume for my personal collection. It is truly a work of art, perhaps macabre art, but a gorgeous example of book making. The red-covered minimalist cover and endpapers are wrapped in a dust jacket that contains numerous spooky visual references to the stories inside. The illustrations inside are striking, unsettling, and sinister. The characters are distinctive, the settings evocative and realistic, and the monsters truly chilling and horrific. The pacing is well organized, with the panels offering just enough information to foster anticipation and activate the reader’s imaginings.
The essence of these tales may be familiar to those who know the three folklore collections of Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammel’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Both this book and those by Schwartz and Gammel are sourced from urban legends that have been circulating for years and both were newly adapted and illustrated for a contemporary audience. Highly enjoyable for those who like their horror based on folklore and those who like to be creeped out by things that may go bump, not only in the night, but in their ordinary habitats. Recommended for older teens and adults.
Mimi’s Tales of Terror By Junji Ito VIZ Signature, 2023 ISBN: 9781974738519
Publisher Age Rating: T+ Related media: Classic to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Japanese
History tells us of a violent feud between two clans in Feudal Japan—the blood-thirsty Akuno and the peaceful Omura. Though they were outmatched, the leaders of the Omura did not fear, for they had the power of prophecy on their side. Their legends told of a stranger with snow-colored skin, who would come in their time of greatest need and lead them to victory over their ancestral enemy.
This did not come to pass.
Unfortunately, the first snow-skinned stranger who came to the Omura was Captain Nathan Garin of the US Army. An idiot and a drunkard, Captain Garin led the Omura into battle, where they were promptly slaughtered. Since then, the Omura are largely forgotten, save as an example of how not to fight a war.
This history is largely meaningless to Todd Parker, a Japanese American professor of film history. His grandfather told him tales of the Omura, but he never expected it to be relevant to his life. Then again, Todd never expected to travel through time to feudal Japan while chasing the woman who stole his wallet, either. Now, on the eve of the final battle between the Akuno and the Omura, it is up to Todd to rewrite history and convince his ancestors of the folly of their beliefs.
White Savior is one of the most metatextual works of fiction I have ever read. Author and artist Eric Nguyen makes it clear how annoyed he is by the plethora of fiction in which a modern man uses his advanced knowledge to avert disaster. This applies to both historical fiction where a white savior is charmed by a different culture and the speculative fiction where a time traveler uses their knowledge of the future and technology to save the day.
Nguyen is not alone in this annoyance. The trope was prominent enough among classic science fiction that Mark Twain satirized it in 1889 with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I find this a fitting comparison because White Savior, much like the Mark Twain novel, is only saved from being preachy by being uproariously funny. What Blazing Saddles was to the Western, White Savior aspires to be to movies like The Last Samurai.
While the script by Nguyen and co-author Scott Burman tackles the racism of the white savior trope, he also mocks the time travel savior through his hero, Todd Parker. Far from full of helpful knowledge of the future, Todd mostly snarks about his misfortune and makes pop culture references nobody understands. He also breaks the fourth wall to a degree that would shame Mel Brooks.
Nguyen’s artwork is as sharp as his satire. He does a fine job illustrating the architecture and armor of feudal Japan. The colors by Iwan Joko Triyono are also good.
Dark Horse Comics rated this volume as 14+. I think that is a perfect rating, as the sophomoric tone and sarcastic examination of tired tropes is ideally suited to the cynical teen audience. There is some bloodshed and adult language, as well as some suggestive remarks when Todd wakes up to find himself being bathed by several women in a scene he is quick to say he is positive is not historically accurate.
White Savior By Eric Nguyen, Scott Burman Art by Eric Nguyen Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506736273
Publisher Age Rating: 14+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese-American Character Representation: Japanese-American
He talks to the dolls in his toy collection, spits out razor sharp nails with stunning accuracy, and conjures forth curses upon those who have wronged him to wreak spiteful vengeance. In his latest foray into the macabre, Junji Ito aims the spotlight at one of the quirkiest characters from his horrific imagination—young Soichi Tsujii—in Soichi: Junji Ito Story Collection.
In the opening story “A Happy Summer Vacation,” Michina and Yuskue pay a visit to their second cousins in the rural town of Fukazawa. No sooner than they settle down to play a game of cards does pesky little Soichi, the unhinged eleven-year-old child of the Tsujii family, sneak up on them. Muttering incoherently, his mouth crammed with protruding nails resembling fangs (he supposedly sucks on them to supplement iron in his blood), he makes his intrusive appearance. Dismissing him as nothing more than a little brat, Michina ignores him, which prompts Soichi to cast a voodoo-like spell by hammering a straw doll resembling Michina to a wall. Strangely enough, in the middle of the night, Michina begins experiencing stabbing chest pains. Could Soichi really be capable of supernatural dark magic? What lurks within the skewed corridors of his twisted mind?
Other stories explore aspects of his character from multiple perspectives. In “Soichi’s Happy Diary,” Michina stumbles upon his diary and gains access to his deluded fantasies, the entries revealing how he methodically carries out curses on others with vengeful glee, with her being the first victim of his vicious pranks. But is he really jinxing others into accidents and mishaps, or are these mere coincidences? In “Soichi’s House Visit,” a schoolteacher pays a home visit to Soichi. However, Soichi places a hex on him, turning him into a cloth doll that bends towards his will, much to the shock of the students at school when they encounter the teacher’s erratic behavior. “Soichi’s Birthday” sheds light on his sickly grandmother, also known as “old lady prophet,” due to the ominous prophecies she spouts even though they rarely came true. But she predicts the birth of a demon child to be born on June 6 at six in morning and forms a special connection with him, believing he is destined to become a genius.
Unlike other collections, this one centers on an antihero alongside recurrent side characters and plots, delving into an intriguing character study. While not packed with grotesque shock scares as in his other works, Ito manages to deliver a deeper, psychological exploration of an enigmatic character. The imagery exudes haunting overtones as in “The Four Layered Room,” wherein Koichi, Soichi’s older brother, needs to study for his exams and hires a contractor to build a soundproof room so he can concentrate and insulate himself from Soichi’s persistent pestering. The contractor—a sickly looking fellow—builds a super confining space enclosed by four concentric layers of walls. Claustrophobic angled shots unfold through a montage of panels, creating a creepy maze-like sensation as Koichi navigates the infrastructure of the house, playing a warped game of cat and mouse with his insidiously mischievous brother.
Dark humor mixed with hilarious moments fill the pages of this fascinating foray into the haunting conundrum of Soichi. Is he merely a mischievous brat craving attention? Or does he harbor a sinister machination against his family and the world at large, especially those who dare cross him? A fun, amusing, and quirky collection, this venture into the multiple facets of Soichi highlights a weirdly delightful exploration into one of Ito’s most confounding characters yet, serving up a unique blend of horror and eerie comedy to adult manga collections.
Soichi Junji Ito Story Collection By Junji Ito VIZ, 2023 ISBN: 9781974739028
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese, Character Representation: Japanese,
Cherry is a boy who has trouble communicating but has found a growing voice through the art of haiku. Smile is a popular streamer who wears a mask to hide her large front teeth. One day at the mall they have a chance meeting, or rather collision, that results in a budding friendship. As their bond grows, Cherry is able to talk more and more with Smile, and he finds that when he’s around her, “words bubble up like soda pop.”
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop Vol. 1 is the beginning of a manga series based on the 2020 anime film of the same name. The manga begins with Cherry on his way to his part-time job at day service at a shopping mall (in Japan, a day service is similar to a senior center—a place that has activities for elderly people). Cherry reflects on his inability to communicate with people. He wears a pair of headphones as a semblance of peace and to dissuade people from initiating conversations with him. However, he has found an outlet in the Japanese poem form of haiku, and he shares his creations on the social media site Curiosity. So deep is Cherry’s affinity for haiku that he carries a dictionary of seasonal words meant to help inspire poets.
Throughout the course of Cherry’s day at the mall, the reader is introduced to an eclectic cast of characters including Cherry’s coworkers at the day service, some of the elderly people who frequent the day service, Cherry’s friends Japan and Beaver, as well as Smile. Cherry and Smile’s friendship grows from there.
The art and writing combine to set the scene for a touching story between two people getting to know each other as well as themselves. One neat touch is that even Cherry’s internal thoughts are in haiku – using the 5-7-5 syllable format. The translation notes at the end are helping to bring context to the title, as Cherry sees a bottle of cider that inspired him to think up the phrase “words bubble up like soda pop,” as in Japan, “cider” indicates “carbonated beverage” as opposed to apple cider. The original title of the manga in Japan is, in fact, Words Bubble Up Like Cider.
The first page and the title spread of the volume are in color before transitioning to the traditional black-and-white palette of most manga.The characters are unique and easily distinguished from each other since the artist employs different facial features, hairstyles, and body shapes. When drawn, the backgrounds are detailed and help ground the characters in their environment. When there is a lack of background scenery, patterns, such as small dots, are employed to offset the character. The shading is clean and crisp.
Despite the unique situations in which Cherry and Smile find themselves, the two characters will resonate with teens facing their own challenges and insecurities. The romance is light in the first volume and seems accessible for young teens who may be new to the romance genre.
The manga is currently being translated into English. Due to the short length of the manga series and its appeal of being a media tie-in to the anime of the same name, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop Vol. 01 is a good option for a teen collection, particularly collections needing more accessible manga for younger teens.
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop Vol 1 By FlyingDog Art by Imo Oono Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975364397
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Related media: Movie to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Gorou Amamiya is an obstetrician-gynecologist is a small hospital. He develops an interest in idol star Ai Hoshino after a former patient shared her obsession. One night, he comes face-to-face with Ai, who is pregnant with twins but doesn’t want her fans to know because that would kill her career as an idol. He is murdered before Ai gives birth and is reincarnated as one of the twins named Aquamarine.
The other twin, named Ruby, is also a reincarnation, the same former patient who introduced Gorou to Ai. Neither of them knows who the other was before their incarnation as Ai’s twins, but they work together to help Ai achieve her goals. Several chapters are spent on slice-of-life activities to build relationships and character development.
Unfortunately, Ai is murdered by a fan who then commits suicide when the twins are only four years old. The twins are adopted by Ai’s manager, whose wife had been taking care of them publicly, and Aqua decides that the only way the fan could have known their address was from their biological father, who has always been a secret. The story then jumps forward twelve years.
I enjoyed the coupling of the glitz and darkness of the entertainment industry. I have no personal experience, so I don’t know how accurately it is portrayed; however, it does seem to match what actors and industry people in the United States have revealed in interviews and biographies. It was especially fun to look closer at idol groups, which are very popular both overseas and here in the US. Even if the premise is not based in fact, the storytelling is excellent and crafts a good balance between drama and character growth. This story would benefit from color art, but the illustrator does a good job setting the tone for scenes with the appropriate glitz or darkness.
If you have patrons who are enjoying the anime (available to stream on Hidive), the manga is an excellent complement to have in your collection. The first volume is featured in the extended first episode of the anime, but the manga includes one-page interviews between each chapter that give additional insight into the main story. I would recommend this series for teens or adults since there are some sensitive themes explored.
Oshi No Ko Vol. 01 By Aka Akasaka Art by Mengo Yokoyari Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975363178
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese,
Insomniacs After School is the most surprising, delightful, and charming book I have read in quite some time. It is a simple slice of life book that, thanks to its sincerity, at no point let me down. I wondered constantly if something exciting, paranormal or extraordinary might happen. It had all the hallmarks of a book that was about to toss a curveball at the reader, but it didn’t and yet I was never disappointed.
The books opens with a student at Kuyo High School telling another why they no longer have an astronomy club. It is a ghost story about a girl who supposedly threw herself off the top of the astronomy tower. Then other members of the club started dying mysteriously. It’s an interesting way to open the book, and it is what set me up to think something unusual might happen at any time. However, we learn in time that one of our protagonists made up the story to keep people away from the astronomy tower. Isaki Magari cannot sleep and as someone who had childhood illnesses, she doesn’t want people making a big deal about her sleep now and fussing over her. Ganta Nakami can’t sleep either and it makes him grumpy which keeps people at bay, so he doesn’t have many friends. He doesn’t want to go to the nurse because he’d be going all the time and he doesn’t want people to think there is something wrong with him. They both discover that the disused observatory is quiet, comfortable, and entirely theirs for the taking.
Magari and Nakami bond over their inability to sleep and the feeling of being an outsider because of it. There is a cat that befriends them and harasses one of their teachers, stealing lettuce from Kurashiki Sensei’s sandwich. They find they can actually sleep when together in the observatory and so they try to make time to be there together. Kurashiki Sensei one day chases the cat all the way up to the observatory trying to get her food back and stumbles upon their secret. She isn’t mad, she isn’t judgmental, but she is required to report it to the school. Fortunately, they work around this by reviving the astronomy club and Nakami and Magari become the first members.
The publisher has this tagged as a romance genre book, which may be true later, but in this volume I would say you only get a glimpse of attraction. Magari certainly seems to sense she has feelings for Nakami, but never speaks them out loud, even to herself. Nakami realizes he only wants to come to school to see Magari, but he can’t quite sort out if it’s more than to be able to sleep. This may develop into a relationship in further installments, but for now it’s entirely chaste as two high school students try to navigate making friends with someone very different from themselves. That said, the art certainly wants you to find Magari adorable and charming.
The strength of the art is how effectively it’s used to forward the plot with wonderful subtlety. Characters are framed in-panel to help shape our feelings about them, much like a movie director giving us cues wordlessly. Each character is distinct and the world is fully recognizable without any panel being overstuffed or too busy to enjoy. It feels like choices were made specifically for pace and atmosphere so that there is never a wasted moment; everything is about creating an almost ethereal world for our sleepy protagonists even in the middle of a school day.
This book is rated Teen and while I understand that rating, there is nothing here that would prohibit tweens/junior high readers from enjoying it. As an adult, the art and tone captivated me immediately and I have already preordered all available volumes for our library. For libraries considering this book, at the time of this writing there are 13 volumes available in Japanese. English translations may be slow to follow, but there will be a lot more to come. I am recommending this to readers at my library who are looking for books that are not heavy action or high emotion stakes. This is a gentle read that still satisfies, and I think will find a lot of different types of fans.
Insomniacs After School, Vol. 01 By Makoto Ojiro VIZ Signature, 2023 ISBN: 9781974736577
Publisher Age Rating: Teen NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Japanese
In 1852, 400 Chinese laborers in transit to the Americas mutinied against the white ship captain profiting from their transportation. Terrorized by British forces and accused of piracy by British and American courts, the rebels briefly won freedom, but never saw justice. Pairing a short graphic novel with academic essays, The Cargo Rebellion: Those Who Chose Freedom surfaces a buried history of Chinese and South Asian labor exploitation that took place throughout the nineteenth-century colonial world.
Written by academics Jason Chang, Benjamin Barson, and Alexis Dudden and illustrated by Kim Inthavong, The Cargo Rebellion opens with a short comic narrating the historical development of the so-called “coolie trade” that saw Chinese and South Asian indentured laborers transported to the Americas under exploitative conditions that the authors characterize as human trafficking. The Robert Bowne mutiny is briefly recounted, as well as the subsequent international legal battle that pitted American and European systems of imperialism against Chinese efforts to combat trafficking.
The comic provides a clear overview of the political and economic context under which Asian unfree labor proliferated in the nineteenth century. Its text skews academic but is still accessible, elevated by Kim Inthavong’s emotive full-color art. The last pages connect the history of Asian American labor with the contemporary practices of transnational slavery and trafficking. The authors issue a call to action for readers to stand against a system of “racial capitalism” and work toward “a global ethics of de-objectification.”
Following the comic are three academic essays by Dudden, Chang, and Barson: a detailed discussion of the mutiny and its legal aftermath, best practices for teaching Asian indenture in the classroom, and a study of Afro-Asian culture in the United States through the lens of music history. The essays contain valuable information and ideas, but there seems to be a missed opportunity to use the comic format to bring some of this material to life—in particular, details of the mutiny and legal dispute might have added depth to the rebels’ narrative, and historiographical details would help explain why stories like the Robert Bowne mutiny are so hard to reconstruct.
A related pitfall of the essays is that they give the book a scholarly bent that makes it much less accessible to younger readers. High school students are unlikely to persist when they come to the denser academic text. Again, it feels like the graphic novel format is underused, specifically, its potential to draw in a larger audience.
Nevertheless, The Cargo Rebellion stands out as virtually the only publication by a non-academic press about nineteenth-century Asian labor trafficking. Its important subject matter makes this title a good fit for university libraries, as well as general adult nonfiction collections that emphasize Asian and Asian American history and social justice topics.
The Cargo Rebellion: Those Who Chose Freedom By Jason Chang, Benjamin Barson, Alexis Dudden Art by Kim Inthavong PM Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781629639642
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: East Asian Character Representation: American, Chinese
From Chisaki Kanai and Yen Press comes My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress. In an unfolding conflict between humans and vampires, one captive vampire woman will prove to be the weapon that shapes all their futures.
The story begins with Isuzu, who is a member of an elite government military squad tasked with taking down vampires who threaten the safety of Japan. After a battle with a particularly ferocious enemy, Isuzu and a coworker discuss rumors they have heard of a vampire named Baroque, a beautiful vampire known for expertly killing other vampires. Seeking to protect his country and his comrades, Isuzu decides to learn for himself whether Baroque exists. Only, the moment he finds her locked in a secure government facility is not the end of his fight—it is the beginning.
In breaking Baroque out of prison, Isuzu and his new companion end up battling the vampire who escaped Isuzu the previous day, and Baroque displays her ability to cast curses, dark magic many did not believe to exist. When they are captured, Isuzu is stripped of his military career, but top officials have realized that there is a connection between their former soldier and the vampire they have been unable to force to cooperate in all the years they have held her captive. They order Isuzu to become Baroque’s handler, and with their new weapon secured, they will bring the fight to their vampire enemies.
The only problem is, there are plenty of vampires with their own reasons for hunting Baroque. As for Isuzu and Baroque—they each have their own reasons for cooperating, but agreeing to work for the military, as well as work together, may have more consequences than either of them realizes.
The premise of My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is not an entirely surprising one for manga, but it does set up an engaging dynamic nonetheless. With paranormal action and a tentative partnership/romance at the center, there are lots of engaging storytelling dynamics to be had here, and Volume 1 only barely scratches the surface of what is sure to follow.
While the overarching story is fun to read and sets up some exciting future adventures, the story does feel a bit rushed in its development and sometimes choppy in its execution—particularly in the hurry to introduce Baroque and kick off the main plot. The consequence is that character decisions and plot points do not always feel fully realized as the story charges ahead to its next scene.
In similar fashion, the art offers some excellent moments, both for characterization and action sequences. However, there are other points Where the rush of movement or combat somewhat obscures what is happening in a given moment. Beyond that, the mixture of stylization and realism fit the story well, and the manga is largely a dynamic visual experience that serves largely as an extended prologue setting up what is still to come.
Isuzu presents a familiar enough style of character within this sort of manga, but with enough personality that he is still entertaining to follow. And while much is made of Baroque’s beauty, and she often acts with the quiet timidity characteristic of female characters, the story gives her enough agency as well as combat ability and competence that she rises above simply being a token presence in need of guidance.
Yen Press does not offer an age rating, but My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is solidly suitable for teen readers and older. There is regular violence along with some mildly suggestive content and language, but nothing that will be surprising to established manga readers. As far as collecting the series is concerned, this is not the strongest paranormal action manga on the shelves. If you’re light on budget, there are probably better options available. But if this is the sort of thing your readers can’t get enough of, there are enough promising elements in volume 1 that it’s at the very least a series worth keeping an eye on as the story continues to unfold.
My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress Vol. 01 By Chisaki Kanai Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975364908
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese, Character Representation: Japanese,