February 27, 2014

Poseidon of the East (8)

The Koi (黄医) is literally the "yellow doctor," so named because the kirin's golden hair. A koi (鯉) is a carp or goldfish, pun perhaps intended.

The Gomon (五門) or "five gates" are the outermost of the palace gates and its forward line of defense. The public government offices of the Outer Palace are accessible between the Gomon and the Chimon or Pheasant Gate (雉門).

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February 24, 2014

The fruits of boredom

Continuing from last week, perhaps what really makes One Piece click with me is Eiichiro Oda's unbridled creativity, which he credits to being easily bored.

So if my manga was just about the action, or comedy, or tear-jerking moments, I would get bored. I change the style of the series to keep up my motivation to draw.

And the product of Oda's flights from boredom? To start with, incredibly intricate plotting that still manages to make sense: flashbacks within flashbacks, cliffhangers that careen off on episode-long tangents, like Melville going on about whales and whaling in Moby Dick.

It's the kind of thing that would be annoying as hell, except the tangents are so interesting. One thing's for certain: narrative complexity sure isn't what's keeping kids from reading books.

Visually, Oda often seems inspired by a Tex Avery vibe not commonly found in anime. And then there's the psychedelic pop art imagery reminiscent of Yellow Submarine. A good example of this wackiness in the "Water 7" arc is Kokoro, the train conductor, and her granddaughter, Chimney.

One Piece is a show worth watching just to see what visual nuttiness Oda will dream up next.

The anime (I haven't read the manga) does have its flaws. Typical of anime produced in quantity on Japanese television, it skimps mightily on inbetweening, reducing the final product at times to an animated slide show.

And practically every episode has the holy living snot getting beat out of about half the cast. Despite the violence mostly being on a Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner level, it gets wearisome, especially when the stories can be so smart as to almost qualify as "high brow."

Not that Oda won't embrace the low brow in a heartbeat. Like many (if not most) in the manga world, he pays little to the demands of political correctness, and a prodigious amount of smoking and drinking goes on in the world's most popular kid's comic.

Though these I consider definite pluses.

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February 20, 2014

Poseidon of the East (7)

There are nine provinces in a kingdom. The capital province is partitioned (enfoeffed) and taxed in order to support the imperial civil service. Within each province, the capital district is partitioned and taxed to support the provincial civil service.

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February 17, 2014

One Piece

For years I've managed to completely ignore the bestselling manga franchise in the world. Then I started watching the "Water 7" arc on TV Japan and got hooked.

Eiichiro Oda, the extraordinarily prolific author of One Piece, has so far written 72 volumes of the manga; the publisher Shueisha has sold over 345 million copies; and the anime from Toei is currently in its sixteenth season.

From all indications, Oda is still going strong (and now with a media empire to back him up). As I've only been exposed to a tiny piece of the One Piece universe, I'm in no position to to opine on the work as a whole. I'll sum up what I've gathered so far.

Monkey D. Luffy, captain of the Going Merry, is a self-professed pirate, though he and his crew never get around to any actual pirating. Rather, Luffy is on a quest for the legendary pirate treasure known as "One Piece," that will allow him to claim the title of "Pirate King."

It's a quest that is constantly interrupted by their good-intentioned meddling, which takes them off on adventures wildly at odds with their purported goals, and often puts them at odds with government authorities (hence their reputation).

Substitute "smuggler" for "pirate" and One Piece is Firefly on water. Or Firefly is One Piece in outer space. The comparison works rather well from the captain down to his motley crew. This description of Malcolm Reynolds applies equally to Luffy:

He is cunning, a capable leader and a skilled fighter. Mal's main character drive is his will for independence. While he is not above petty theft, smuggling or even killing to maintain his free lifestyle, he is generally honest in his dealings with others, fiercely loyal to his crew and closely follows a personal moral code.

To that I'll add that One Piece is a superhero series done pretty much right.

In too many superhero shows, the supervillain only exists because the superhero does. The Avengers somewhat surmounts this problem because Loki is not all-powerful (though I dislike the mind-control plot device) and his existence alone is not an existential threat to the universe.

And second because Whedon has our heroes spending as much time bickering as fighting the enemy. To be sure, a big mistake made on ensemble shows is inventing stupid reasons for the protagonists to not get along, rather than the conflict arising organically out of character (e.g., Kirk, Spock, McCoy).

The Avengers is about too many big egos (and big tempers) in too small a space. Robert Downey Jr. aside, my two favorite scenes belong to the Hulk. The "puny god" scene, of course, and the one where he biffs Thor just because he's standing there.

The Avengers need Agent Coulson and Nick Fury to hold them together and direct their energies towards the more important goal.

We find the same thing on Serenity and the Going Merry, what Kate calls the "happy imperfect team": a bunch of oddballs and mercenaries who'd never get anything done without the glue of Malcolm Reynolds or Luffy holding them together.

And who is Luffy holding together? As of Water 7, the "Straw Hats" (named for Luffy's preferred head apparel) are:

• Zoro, whose swords can cut through pretty much anything.
• Nami, the ship's navigator and a cat burglar.
• Usopp, a slingshot sniper, tinkerer, and inveterate teller of tall tales.
• Sanji, the ship's cook and a martial arts expert.
• Tony Tony Chopper, a shape-shifting reindeer who's also the ship's doctor.
• Nico Robin, archaeologist who can create additional invisible limbs like Lucy in Elfen Lied.

And then there's Luffy. Like Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four, he can stretch and twist his body like a rubber band.

Their various and often glaring imperfections inject the necessary dollop of realistic conflict into their adventures. The "Water 7" arc in particular has Luffy and Usopp getting into a knockdown, drag-out fight, but one that is painfully true to human nature and to their characters.

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February 13, 2014

Poseidon of the East (6)

Kouya (夜更) is the Chinese (on'yomi) reading of yofuke (夜更け), which means "in the middle of the night" or the "small hours" (see the first definition offered by Eijirou).

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February 10, 2014

Triton of the Sea

My translation of Osamu Tezuka's Triton of the Sea garnered a decent pair of reviews here and here.

Triton of the Sea is an impressive piece of work, a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. Two brothers (the orphaned Triton is adopted) set out on missions of revenge and terrible things happen along the way as a result. Not exactly a crowd-pleaser of a plot.

Even so, the story is never depressingly nihilistic, the evil Poseidons get their comeuppance (in a scene straight out of a 1960s Bond flick), and it ends on an up note. The violence is stark at times though never explicit (by the end of the 1970s manga would lose those inhibitions).

The story is leavened by clever social commentary, goofy humor, and in-jokes (that require an understanding of late 1960's Japanese politics). The giant tortoise Ganomoth plays the Yoda to Triton's Luke, warning that destroying Poseidon will exact a steep cost.

Compared to Tezuka, fellow manga pioneer Shigeru Mizuki (who lost an arm in WWII and defined the manga horror genre) is the more exacting artist. Tezuka is revered as the "father of manga," but I think Mizuki deserves credit for the pen & ink look of modern manga.

There's a great scene in NHK's biopic series about Mizuki that has him hunched over a desk creating a full page comic panel in the pointillist style, going dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot with a dip pen and a bottle of India ink for hours.

If Tezuka is the Walt Disney of Japan, Mizuki is Japan's Rod Serling, though he is known mostly for his kid's series, Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro. Tezuka remains the master of the epic narrative. As the above reviews note, even at 2000 pages, Triton of the Sea can feel rushed.

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February 06, 2014

Poseidon of the East (5)

Until fairly recently, the belief persisted in Japan that Japanese women came to term in ten months, not nine. The common explanation is that a pregnancy was traditionally counted from the week of the last period, and then in 10 lunar months of 28 days. A typical nine-month pregnancy comes to around 270 days, well within the margin of error.

On the other hand, the birds and the bees here don't have much to do with "normal" human physiology.

Kyoto became the capital of Japan in the 8th century. In 1868, the seat of government was moved to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo (the "eastern capital").

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February 03, 2014

Twelve Kingdoms (2013-14 editions)

Shinchosha is releasing revised editions of the Twelve Kingdoms series, sporting new cover art and illustrations by Akihiro Yamada. The website is in Japanese but the covers can be viewed using the "episode index" on the left.

  • Episode 0: Masho no Ko ("The Demon Child")
  • Episode 1: Tsuki no Kage, Kage no Umi ("Shadow of the Moon, A Sea of Shadows")
  • Episode 2: Kaze no Umi, Meikyū no Kishi ("A Sea of Wind, Shores of the Labyrinth")
  • Episode 3: Higashi no Watatsumi, Nishi no Sokai ("Poseidon of the East, Vast Blue Seas of the West")
  • Episode 4: Kaze no Banri, Reimei no Sora ("A Thousand Leagues of Wind, The Sky at Dawn")
  • Episode 5: Hisho no Tori ("Hisho's Bird")
  • Episode 6: Tonan no Tsubasa ("The Wings of Dreams")
  • Episode 7: Kasho no Yume ("Dreaming of Paradise")
  • Episode 8: (not listed but available) Tasogare no Kishi, Akatsuki no Sora ("The Shore in Twilight, The Sky at Daybreak")

Akihiro Yamada has published a Twelve Kingdoms art book. It is available from Amazon-Japan and in the U.S. through resellers (the ISBN is 978-4103359319).