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Mumbling Kitsune: Five Manga Must-Reads
Nobody is ever going to agree on the five greatest manga of all time, though these titles are definitely special.
By Nadia Oxford
October 27, 2008
© Last Gasp
The wars of the past were started over religion, and the wars of the future will be started over internet-published “Top _____” Lists. Even something as obscure as the “Top Five Best Brands of Mantis Shrimp Poison Baits” will set people on each other like hungry dogs with pork chops tied to each others' throats.
Putting together a list of the Best Anime or Best Manga might prove just as deadly, though it's certainly a noble undertaking because a huge medium like manga deserves to be shared. An exceptional title can be appreciated by everyone, but at the same time, those titles often get lost in an enormous sea of mediocrity. When people share their interests and insist it's the best of the best, others nod and say, “I think I'll try that.”
After a scuffle and a bit of swearing, of course.
I'm going to share five of my favourite manga series for purposes of conversation, love and maybe to aid you in Christmas shopping for a loved one. Needless to say, this is subject to personal preference, though I certainly recommend you try them out for yourself regardless of your favourite genre.
Dragon Ball Z (Akira Toriyama) – Toriyama's famous shonen series often garners ridicule instead of love because memories often defect to the anime instead. The anime, for those who need to be reminded (which I'm sure are few of you) is infamous for Planet Namek being given a death sentence by the evil Freiza in “five minutes”--and those five minutes lasted for about twenty episodes.
But the Dragon Ball Z manga was different, paced far quicker and with an emphasis on the characters, It was a heck of a twist to see as a grown man with a family, to say nothing of his alliance with old enemies like the surly King Piccolo. It was also shocking to learn Goku's real purpose in life, which went way beyond “eat” and “find Dragon Balls.”
In fact, Goku didn't just travel the earth this time. He also went into space and the afterlife, to save the universe from evil aliens and robots. Goku's noble optimism makes him a protagonist worth following.
Favourite Moment:Piccolo seizes Goku's soft first-born, Gohan, to engage him in “Hell's own training” in hopes he'll be able to quell the Saiyan threat speeding towards earth. Gohan's first task is simply to “live,” he's abandoned in the wilderness for six months, and Toriyama's universe has never skimped on the slavering dinosaurs.
Pluto (Naoki Urasawa) – Last week's column talked about Pluto, which has been referred to as <a href=”http://www.mania.com/mumbling-kitsune-pluto-for-giant-robot_article_110601.html?md5=7b94211c05de4a9967f5305e79e46720”>Astro Boy for Adults.</a> Indeed, Urasawa's manga echoes Tezuka's society, a world where robots and humans must co-exist together. Pluto's protagonist, a grim-faced robot named Gesicht, is an investigator with Europol who must get to the bottom of a string of violent murders involving both humans and the “World's Strongest Robots.” Gesicht doesn't have many clues to go on, but what he does have seems to involve a shadowy horned robot.
Pluto is a beautiful piece of work. Through masterful art and writing, Urasawa attaches the reader to his robot characters as if they actually were humans. Viz will be releasing the first English volume of Pluto in early February 2009. It is not to be missed.
Favourite Moment: The first appearance the creator of Tobio (Astro Boy): the brilliant but empty-souled Doctor Tenma. Urasawa art style makes the Doctor look much like Gendo from Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is probably not a coincidence.
Mushishi (Yuki Urushibara) -- Humankind has a bad habit of not taking note of its surroundings, which can lead to big trouble. Mushishi is an episodic manga that tells the story of Ginko, a wandering loner who is a storehouse of knowledge about "mushi"--etheral life forms who exist on a different plane than humanity, but, like all living things, strive to live regardless of circumstances. When mushi and humans clash, it takes the work of a Mushishi (mushi master) like Ginko to untangle the mess.
Mushishi can always be counted on for a cool, calming read, but that's not to say the series lacks action. You won't see a lot of the "bzew bzew!" you usually get with science fiction manga, but the series is steeped in Nature, and Nature is never a quiet woman. Mushishi is also a thoughtful read: it asks a lot of questions about humanity's role in the world and whether or not we're truly more important than the mushi despite being the bigger and noisier species.
Favourite Moment: Any moment wherein Ginko gets down to serious business. Though he stresses the need for humans and mushi to live together as much as possible, he's not above killing mushi that endanger human life.
Barefoot Gen (Keiji Nakazawa) -- It's impossible to read Barefoot Gen and not come away hating nuclear weapons. Interestingly, Barefoot Gen doesn't preach and it doesn't read like a blame piece. Instead, the story of Gen, the boy who survived the Hiroshima bombing, looks at the best and worst of humanity. Nakazawa makes sure both America and Japan share the blame for one of the most terrible events to occur in mankind's history.
That's not to say the effects of the nuclear bomb are softened; in fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more graphic story told through manga, comics or any medium. Skin melts, intestines drag on the ground, children scream through mouths bristling with broken glass. Through it all, Gen strives to remain optimistic and find food for his mother, baby sister and adopted brother.
Favourite Moment: Nakazawa's masterful tension-building on the sunny morning of August 6, 1945, when Gen's family goes about their normal routine at 8:10 a.m.
Phoenix (Osamu Tezuka) -- Death, reincarnation, redemption. The far past and the far-flung future. Nuclear war, the rise and fall of religion and humanity itself. The God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka, covered all of these in his final work, Phoenix--and so much more. Phoenix is told in a series of volumes that are seemingly episodic, but are all connected by common themes, including the legendary Firebird herself.
The first volume will take you to the dawn of civilisation. The second takes you through mankind's end. Subsequent volumes close in, bouncing mankind's history and development through the ages like a ping-pong ball, and it's awe-inspiring even though you know the eventual outcome.
Too few Americans have read Phoenix, which simply must be remedied.
Favourite Moment: Volume two of the series, "Future," strikes a perfect balance between science fiction and ancient history. Tezuka doesn't over-complicate things with jargon, however; he strives to deliver a message to humanity about our course.