It can be a little difficult to keep on top of Viz Media LLC’s various imprints and sub-imprints. The old PULP line became Editor’s Choice, Editor’s Choice became the Signature line, and now that’s just VIZ SIG. Unless a title being published in the line also made its debut in the pages of the Japanese alt-comix anthology IKKI, then it’s now part of the Brand New SIG-IKKI sub-imprint. And as fun as all of that was to type out, it’s really besides the point because all of those imprints and sub-imprints are just indicators of where the good comics are.
Now they’ve got a website where you can view a bunch of great comics for free. It’s http://sigikki.com/ and it’s a blog and culture website to promote alternative and unique styles of manga (that happen to be published by Viz), and to act as an online version of IKKI magazine, serializing manga series–for free!–to try and develop audiences for the books before they show up on store shelves. It’s also kind of unprecedented within the manga industry, an online version of a manga anthology complete with serialized manga, designed to develop a whole new audience. Hey Viz, THANKS.
So what were my initial impressions of their launch series? Why, I’m glad you asked and I’d be happy to tell you. Only thing is, I think the action of launching an online, alternative manga magazine is perhaps more important than almost any one (or 5) stories, so I strongly encourage you to go read all of these series and make up your own opinions. But here’s what I thought anyway… perhaps you will disagree with me.
Children of the Sea, by Daisuke Igarshi: I’ve read three or four chapters of Children of the Sea and it’s great though I have to admit, knowing that there was a print version on the way (now available) I waited for that; I’m just a print guy. Sadly I forgot my English-language edition of the first volume at home so it didn’t end up being one of my read-on-the-plane books for my trip to Japan. Speaking of, that book is gorgeous, go buy it.
Oh yeah, Japan. Igarashi was everywhere in Japanese bookstores, with lots of particular focus on Children of the Sea. I assume there’s an other-media adaptation coming down the pipe, but it was strange and heartening to see something popular and highly touted and knowing that it was just about to be released in North America… rather than 2 or 3 years down the road.
Bokurano: Ours, by Mohiro Kitoh: Reminds me a hell of a lot of the creator’s previous English-language manga series Shadow Star (Dark Horse). It’s an interesting premise, at least from the first chapter, but it’s a little awkardly executed. Artless, maybe? Like “oh, here are all of you children, I will explain the plot to you! GIANT ROBOT!” If I remember correctly, Shadow Star also had to be heavily edited (and eventually discountinued?) due to sexual content and ultraviolence in its similar-looking pubescent young cast… This should be a fascinating series to watch.
It’s perhaps the weakest first chapter of the ones released so far on the side, but despite that I do want to see where it’s going in the second installment.
Dorohedoro, by Q Hayashida: And now for something completely different: Insane Ultraviolence! If you like to see a dude with a lizard head bite another dude in the face before carving him–midair with a machete–into component chunks, while a sexy chick looks on? This is the manga for you. I’m willing to see if the story develops into anything… perhaps that’s missing the point though.
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow, by Shunju Aono: While travelling through Japan, in the “alternative” manga section of whichever bookstore I happened to be in at the time, this book had a prominent place with shelftalkers and even a floor-display at one place. It has a charming, lo-fi art style that was immediately appealing to me, and I would pick up the book, flip through it, chuckle, and then put it down… because so much of it seemed dependent on the language (which I could not read). And then Viz went and translated it for me as soon as I got back from Japan (thanks again Viz!), so you could say I was predisposed to like it.
Yeah, I like it. Love it maybe. It’s clever, with a strange but relatable plot (middle-aged salaryman feels aimless in his day-to-day, tries to escape but has no real plan to do so…), and some truly what-the-fuck moments that push this one into “When are they going to upload the next chapter?!” territory. It’s also easily the most conventionally uncommercial release to date, so I hope y’all like it as much as I do. :)
Saturn Apartments, by Hisae Iwaoka: From the description I was worried about this one being maybe a little overly-cute or overly sentimental. I can deal with both in turn, but in my alternative manga anthology I was hoping for something more? Anyway, it turns out this is just really good, solid. A great introductory chapter, strong enough that it felt like a solid Sci-Fi short-story all on its own, but is full of promise for a longer series. The art too is quite nice, with scratchy lines and squat character designs, and beautifully rendered backgrounds and a strong sense of storytelling.
But like I said up top, don’t just take my word for it, the first chapters of all of these manga (and in the case of Children of the Sea, the whole volume!) are free at http://sigikki.com. Check’em out, tell your friends, and lets keep building an audience in North America for more mature manga.
Parting IKKI Fun Fact: I learned from a friend in Japan that IKKI the magazine was actually started as a creative showcase for one of my favourite creators, Taiyo Matsumoto. He launched the magazine with his awesome BD Sci-Fi-inspired series NO.5, which saw print briefly here in North America. Knowing that now, it does account for the varying art styles in these works, and also for the heavy predilection towards Sci-Fi storylines. Maybe the SIGIKKI site can serialize that great series sometime soon?