Manga Month

Each month, a new issue of the Previews catalog lands with a seismic thud in comic shops. Sometimes it inspires nothing more than relief that you won’t have to sell plasma to cover your comic shop expenses. Sometimes, with careful scrutiny, you can find some promising titles that that will provide pleasurable anticipation in the coming weeks.

And very rarely it offers the kind of cornucopia of interesting, diverse titles that make it seem like the promise of manga for every age and taste has been fulfilled. Take this month, for example.

I cracked open the June 2006 edition of Previews with the standard expectations, but as I flipped through it, I was increasingly astounded at the range of material. Diamond’s Manga Month for the year might have come and gone, but October promises to be the real deal.

ADVhas already given the world the beloved Yotsuba&!for the young and young at heart, and the publisher delves further into the all-ages arena with Haruka Arai’sA Little Snow Fairy Sugar ($9.99). Okay, so I don’t see myself rushing off to the comic shop for a story about a search for “Twinkles” that make magical flowers bloom, but I’m guessing there’s no shortage of readers who would.

CMX answers the question, “What if Jane Austen wrote manga?” Kaoru Mori’s Emma debuts ($9.99), following the class-conscious romance of a young maid and her wealthy employer. The sample pages are lovely, and the promise of “rich, historical details” is almost as alluring.

Dark Horse continues to corner the market on samurai action and inventive horror, rolling out Hiroshi Hirata’sSatsuma Gishiden ($14.95) and two volumes of Junji Ito’sMuseum of Terror series ($13.95 a pop). I’ve read and loved Ito’s Tomie, which concludes in volume two, but I’ve never seen the shorts collected in volume three. Most promising to me, though, is the debut Hiroaki Samura’sOhikkoshi ($12.95), described as “Japanese art school confidential.” I’m always game for quirky, character-driven comics, and this one sounds like it will fit the bill nicely.

The roll-out of Del Rey’s mature line continues with the debut Kouji Seo’s of Suzuka ($12.95). In this case, “mature” seems equivalent to “packed with fan service,” but nobody ever went broke comparing a title toLove Hina.

Hidden somewhere in the heaps of Digital Manga Publishing’s yaoi offerings is another chapter in the Edu-Manga series ($9.95). This time around, writer Takayuki Kanda and artist Naoko Takase introduce readers to Ludwig van Beethoven, with some help from Astro Boy. Who better, really?

If there was a manga title that landed on more best-of lists last year than Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man and Other Stories, I can’t think of it. Drawn & Quarterly releases a second collection of Tatsumi’s critically acclaimed short stories in Abandon the Old in Tokyo($19.95). (They also offer Push Man again at $19.95.)

Fanfare/Ponent Mon doesn’t exactly flood the market with releases, but when they do, they’re choice. This month sees the release of the third volume of Natsuo Sekikawa and Jiro Taniguchi’s The Times of Botchan. It’s priced at $19.99 for a 160-page soft-cover, which makes me a little cautious in recommending it. (D&Q similarly priced Tatsumi book offers over 200 pages in hardcover for four cents less.) Still, Taniguchi’s art is breathtaking, and the story offers a fascinating look at the Meiji era of Japanese history. F/PM also offers the first two volumes of Botchan, which is wise, since you aren’t likely to find them on the average shop shelf.

Now, we come to the titans, Tokyopop and Viz, and it’s hard to pick who’s going to have the better month.

Tokyopop gets its geek on with the arrival of Star Trekmanga ($9.99). Ten writers and artists join forces to add some entries to the Captain’s Log. Two all-ages offerings from the publisher’s new Manga Chapters line arrive as well, from science-fiction adventure with Agent Boo(written by Alex de Campi, drawn by Edo Fuijkschot) and something a little more fragrant from The Grosse Adventures (written by Annie Auerbach, drawn by Mike Norton). Reasonably priced at $4.99 for 96 pages, and with the muscle of HarperCollins behind them, these books might move a few copies, y’know?

I’m a sucker for comic mysteries, so my favorite Tokyopop debut will likely be Kamen Tantei ($9.99). It’s by Matsuri Akino, creator of the very popular Pet Shop of Horrors, which should give it something of a built-in audience. And while DMP might offer lots of yaoi, Tokyopop’s Blu line delivers the one that really catches my eye. It’s Gerard & Jacques ($9.99), and it’s by Fumi Yoshinaga, creator of the truly splendid Antique Bakery (DMP).

Viz isn’t exactly slacking either. The month will see the arrival of new installments of blockbusters like Death Note($7.99), Fullmetal Alchemist ($9.99), Hot Gimmick ($9.99), and Naruto ($7.95), which seems positively greedy. Off of the Greatest Hits list, Viz also debuts a new Shojo Beatgraphic novel, Kiyoko Arai’s Beauty Pop, and a newShonen Jump book, Tite Kubo’s Zombie Power ($7.99). Given the choice between a makeover comedy and a book about a guy with a six-foot chainsaw, I think you can all probably guess which one speaks more loudly to me.

Ah, but both positively pale in comparison to the prospect of more culinary manga. Viz also launches Takashi Hashiguchi’s Yakitate Japan ($9.99), the tale of a young man with a dream. That dream involves convincing the Japanese of the beauty of freshly baked carbohydrates, and dude’s really preaching to the choir with this reader.

So let’s wrap up. We’ve got books that promise to appeal to the youngest readers, all the way up the age scale to the crustiest graphic novel aficionado. We’ve got adventure, biography, mystery, comedy, romance, horror, science fiction, fantasy, and fan service. We’ve got old favorites and new arrivals, fluffy escapism and challenging and complex storytelling.

Now that’s a Manga Month.