Manga: The Complete Guide Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Art Rating: N/A
  • Packaging Rating: B-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B
  • Age Rating: All
  • Released By: Del Rey
  • MSRP: 19.95
  • Pages: 592
  • ISBN: 0-3454-8590-4
  • Size: 9" X 6"
  • Orientation: Left to Right
  • Series: Faust Anthology

Manga: The Complete Guide Vol. #01

By Ben Leary     December 06, 2007
Release Date: October 30, 2007

Manga: The Complete Guide Vol.#01
© Del Rey

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Jason Thompson
Translated by:
Adapted by:

What They Say
This companion and handy reference guide to manga features extensive reviews and information on more than 900 different manga series, complete with background and stories, as well as profiles on important and prolific manga artists and creators including CLAMP, Osamu Tezuka, and Rumiko Takahashi.

The Review
Well, it's finally here: a complete guide to all the manga published in English.

I wish I could start with another category on this one, because Packaging contains what is the weakest (literally and figuratively) part of this release: the flimsy cover and binding. No matter what part of the book you pick it up by, it flops in your hand as soon as you get it off the table or shelf. I've been handling it pretty carefully, but even in the short time I've had this book it's already sustained a few bends and nicks, and the front cover is starting to peel. For a reference book that doesn't bode well at all. I'd strongly consider getting a vinyl protector or putting on one of those plastic laminate covers that libraries use now. Otherwise I suspect this will go to pieces, especially if you plan on lugging it in a backpack or something.

The cover art is done is a restrained red and white colour-scheme, with easy to read text touting the features of the guide, and few manga volume covers tossed alongside for variety. The spine features the word "MANGA" in huge white letters, a good decision that allows you to spot the book on the shelf from across the room, something that's always handy for a quick-reference work. The paper is thinnish; but that keeps the book a managable size without any of the usual problems of thin paper, e.g. text on the other side of the page bleeding through, so I'm inclined to think the compromise was a good one in this case. There is a bit of art here and there, in the form of selections of individual pages from certain manga at appropriate places in the book. Apart from often being too small, and printed on paper that isn't ideally suited to that sort of thing, these mostly look okay; though a couple are a bit too bloody or otherwise disturbing to have been included in the general review section. (The first one in the review section contains the text "I am going to tear your pale belly open and spill your blood-slicked entrails as a sacrifice for the return of the demon-eye king!" That makes a nice welcome mat for the in-laws, but it's not the way to get a book of reviews started.)

The text is in an easily readable, no-nonsense font that looks fine whether it's on the normal white background or the grey boxes that house the genre articles. Can't say there's a lot of variety, but this is a case where you really wouldn't expect any, and there are no problems I can come up with.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mr Jason Thompson's "Manga: The Complete Guide" is nothing if not ambitious. Its aim is nothing less than to tackle every manga published in English, even extremely rare titles, such as those that were quickly discontinued or published only in Japan in bilingual editions. In doing so it fills a void, a void felt ever since the manga boom in America, for a comprehensive guide to the sometimes dizzyingly complicated array of titles available to the English reader. The titles are limited to manga in the strictest sense: all of the works reviewed are officially licensed comics that have been published in Japanese, so you won't find any reviews of light novels, manhwa/manhua, film comics, or anything along those lines. As much as I'd like to have the information on these excluded titles, I can certainly see the need to limit the scope of the book - especially since this is almost entirely a one-man show.

And what a show it is. In style it's a lot like a movie guide: each title has its vital statistics laid out (original Japanese title, publishers and dates of publication for Japan and America, volume count, genre(s), age rating (or equivalent if none was provided by the publisher), objectionable content), and then a capsule review with a 0-4 star grade at the end. That's quite a lot of information, and I'm very glad that Mr Thompson goes the extra mile to include it all. What I find particularly useful is the mention of the objectionable content. Seeing that publishers usually won't provide this information on their own, and with the catch-all 13+ rating covering so much ground that it's become useless, these summaries are very, very helpful. Even full-length reviews don't usually cover that sort of thing. I've already been able to weed out a few potential series that have content that would turn me off.

The reviews themselves are the bulk of the book. And rightly so, that's what we're here for. They range in length from about a dozen lines to a full column or maybe a bit over. (There are two columns per page.) That's a bit longer than the kind of capsule review you'd get in a movie guide, but necessary because a manga series usually has more content to discuss than a film. The reviews do a good job at covering their titles' premise and giving you an overview look at what you're in for. Many of them contain little tidbits of info about the creation or publishing or other behind-the-scenes occurrences that are consistently interesting and informative. They'll even tell you when an official age rating is unsuitable and when edits have occurred. In general the approach works well and tells you just what you need to know without spoilers or excess baggage.

A bias in reviewing is inevitable for any reviewer, and this book is of course no exception. Going by the ratings, the bias here is towards serious, gritty, offbeat, and/or cynical stories. Sometimes it seems like it's impossible to find an 18+ title that doesn't get at least three stars. The flip side of this is that anything simple or pleasant or quietly amusing simply will not get a good rating. Apart from "Cardcaptor Sakura" I couldn't find any "cute" titles that received the highest rating, not even "Azumanga Daioh". You know that any book like this is going to give ratings you don't agree with...but one measly star for "Someday's Dreamers" and "Ai yori Aoshi"? Gimme a break. And how "Gon" can miss a perfect rating, even by half a star, is beyond me. But that doesn't mean every purely entertaining series gets shortchanged: "One Piece", "Naruto", and "Dragon Ball" all get four stars. Then again, so does "Sugar Sugar Rune", and I can't even begin to tell you how much that bothers me.

But thus much you'd expect to come with the territory. What you probably won't expect is the articles on all the different genres of manga, even the ones that don't often get published stateside. The idea wasn't a bad one; but there are a couple of problems. The first is simply a problem of placement. The articles are sprinkled through the review section by alphabetical order: e.g. the Comedy article comes right after the page with the "Comic Party" review. The articles break out of the two-column format and are printed on a grey background to help distinguish them from the regular reviews when you first open the book. What makes them inconvenient is the fact that many of the articles are multiple pages long and you can't immediately tell where you are if you have the bad luck to open right in the middle of one. I can understand the desire to split these up a bit; but they really belong in their own section at the back of the book. The other problem is that they don't tell you all that much, for the most part. Seriously, how much of interest can you even say about Military or Psychic or Cooking manga? Absolute beginners may find some of it fresh and informative - I honestly just stopped reading them after a while. This is in sharp contrast to the very good overview material in the introduction, however, so I recommend you read that even if you don't generally read introductions.

Speaking of the special sections at the back of the book, here's what they are. First off there's a section devoted to yaoi reviews; then comes the adult reviews. I wish all the 18+ titles had gone back here, actually - it can be quite disconcerting to look up "Sugar Suger Rune" and run across "Sweat and Honey", for example. These finish the reviews for the book. An afterward follows, then there's an appendix on age ratings, and another on the Japanese language and the kind of translation issues that come up with honorifics, sound effects and so forth. This will all be old hat to a lot of readers: but we've all had a time when this sort of information would have been helpful to us, and it's nice to have it all laid out clearly here. Ditto for the helpful glossary that succeeds it. There's also a bibliography, for the sort of people who read those (I am not one); and, finally, an artist index that lists all the published works (in English) of the individual artists. This last section is a great boon. It saves you having to look this stuff up on the ANN encyclopedia and figure out which ones are in English. Plus, some of the major artists are given their own brief write-ups. This is an excellent resource, one I'm sure I'll be referring to often from now on. Taken together these sections are really great to have; my only complaint is that I wish they had been marked in some way on the sides of the pages for easy lookup.

There's an introduction to a scholarly work which contains the sentence: "This edition is not without its faults; but it does have the great merit of existing." That's almost exactly the feeling I have towards "Manga: The Complete Guide". Faults it does have, mainly the sort of faults you'd expect to see in your own work if you locked yourself in your house for nine months and did nothing but read and review manga. It over-rates really weird stuff just for being different, for example, and betrays a lack of patience with certain longer series. Occasionally there's a discrepancy between the description and the star rating. "Miracle Girls" is called "one of the best manga in English for the younger set." It's given two and a half stars. (Although to be fair, that comes from one of the assistant reviewers.) Much worse is an attitude of insinuation that crops up from time to time, particularly involving fan titles that Mr Thompson does not care for. No one, especially not a professional critic, should assume he knows why other people like something for which he has no taste. And the analytical demon can't keep from raising its head either. Now and again you run across statements such as one to the effect that magical girl transformation scenes are a metaphor for growing up. If they are, they're a really dumb metaphor.

But of course the book's main flaw is the one that can't be avoided. The book had to go to press sometime, therefore the manga published afterward and all the titles on the way - the ones the serious fans will need most - are not included. (The cut-off date is sometime in late 2006, as far as I can make out.) Thankfully Del Rey has done what it can by including the address of a web page where updates will ostensibly be posted. If this is kept up it could increase the value of the book considerably.

But whatever faults this book has are far outweighed by its sheer usefulness. The mere copiousness of it is staggering. The only title I didn't find was Tezuka's "Crime and Punishment" - a bilingual version published only in Japan - and that's probably the most notoriously obscure title I know of. I mean, I was floored to see "Princess Knight" and "Doraemon" included, and those are in the same neighborhood. I expect that, as is the case with most books of reference, the readers who are newest to the subject will find it the most helpful. But that's not to say that those who have been reading manga for years won't find anything new or interesting. I hate to call any book a "must-have" - it's far too conceited to tell other people what they "must" read. But this book comes as close to deserving that moniker as any I've seen. That and "the great merit of existing" make it an easy recommendation.


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