Archive for July, 2012

CLAMP's "Gate 7": The grand experiment that wasn't

July 29th, 2012
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Dateline: the last weekend of July 2007. The Simpsons Movie had just opened in theaters, Barry Bonds hit the 754th home run of his asterisk-appended career, and hotel rooms were sold out throughout downtown San Diego.

Yes, it was Comic-Con International time, and the eyes of fans of all things pop-culture related were pointed in the direction of southern California. Anime and manga fans certainly had much to be excited about -- Viz announced it was adding Bleach to Shonen Jump, Funimation picked up Vexille from the production team that did Appleseed (well, it certainly seemed like a good idea at the time, although in retrospect, perhaps not so much), and several publishers snagged good series that were criminally under-read by U.S. audiences and subsequently stopped before their full runs were complete: Seven Seas' Hayate X Blade, Del Rey's Me and the Devil Blues, pretty much everything announced by Broccoli Books and CMX.

And then there was the announcement relevant to our interests, seeing as how this is CLAMP month for the Manga Movable Feast, hosted by Melinda Beasi over at Manga Bookshelf. Five years ago, on July 28, Dark Horse announced that it was teaming up with the four-member artist collective to usher in "a new era of manga." From the original press release:

CLAMP's original manga with Dark Horse will be launched simultaneously in the United States, Japan, and Korea. The story will come out in a small digest consisting of about eighty pages each, which will then be collected into trade paperbacks with bonus material. CLAMP and Dark Horse are coining the bilingual term Mangettes to describe this innovative new format for manga distribution. This digest format, or Mangette, signifies CLAMP's personal wish to reach their large international readership by now speaking to them directly as artists through Dark Horse, and on a basis of equality with their Japanese fans.

CLAMP and Dark Horse chose the term Mangettes to describe this revolutionary format, whose Japanese pronunciation, mangetsu, means "the full moon." The two kanji in mangetsu also have the individual meanings of "fulfilled" and "monthly," reflecting what will be a monthly appearance of each CLAMP Mangette.

According to CLAMP, "Mangettes are a completely brand new experience for us, too, and we're really happy to be working on this. And we're really looking forward to the day when we can bring you this new story from CLAMP, and the day when we can meet our fans face-to-face to hear what you think about Mangettes!"

Anime News Network followed up with the news that these mangettes would be released in 2009, CLAMP would have full creative control over the contents, and they would be 5 inches by 7 inches in size.

It was a can't-miss proposition. For years, CLAMP had attracted a flock of U.S. readers with series like Cardcaptor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth, Chobits, xxxHolic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. Tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. did her part in sharing the CLAMP love by writing about Clover, Wish, Shirahime-syo and a double feature of Suki: A Like Story and The One I Love. And now we were getting a new story from them, day-and-date with two other regions, monthly? Sign us up.

mangettesgate7Turns out fans would be eager to meet CLAMP -- and, by extension, Dark Horse -- face-to-face to echo one common thought about the mangettes: "Where are they, and what are they going to be about?" After the grand reveal, the project promptly burrowed into a deep, dark corner of Dark Horse headquarters in Milwaukie, Ore., and was rarely heard from again. In April 2008, Dark Horse confirmed to Anime News Network that the mangette had no official name. In December 2008, that name quietly leaked onto Amazon's Canadian site, where it was promptly snagged and shared by Lissa Pattillo at Kuriosity: Gate 7. The first cover image, seen at right, surfaced on Amazon's Japanese site in March 2009.

And that was it for Gate 7, the revolutionary mangette. 2009 turned into 2010, CLAMP put the project on the back burner as they worked on xxxHolic for longer than they expected. Then Dark Horse prioritized new omnibus releases of Clover, Cardcaptor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth. By the time Dark Horse reintroduced Gate 7 to U.S. audiences in April 2011 prior to the release of the first volume in October, the series had been running in Japan for several months, the 80-page format had been scrapped in favor of traditional chapters, and it was ... well ... like pretty much every other manga that's been released before and since.

That similarity to other manga ended up extending to Gate 7's story. It's your typical fantasy fare, where an average, nondescript person somehow gets pulled into an alternate dimension where forces for good are battling a mysterious power beyond all human understanding. (No, really, trust me -- you'll read the first volume like I did, and then you'll try going through it more slowly, and you still won't understand what the forces for good are fighting against aside from "hulking snarling beasts dripping with evil.") These average Joes or Janes usually have no idea what's going on, but naturally (a) they gets pulled into the fray for the long haul and (b) they has some latent power that has everyone oohing and ahhing over them, even though no one can fully comprehend what that power is.

In the case of Gate 7, that seemingly unremarkable person is Chikahito, a high school student who gets yanked into the aforementioned other dimension while visiting his beloved Kyoto. Our forces for good are Hana, a mostly quiet girl with a penchant for noodle dishes, animal caps, making her hands go "wriggle wriggle wriggle," and styling her hair somewhat like Misaki Suzuhara's in Angelic Layer (compare it: here's Hana, and here's Misaki); Tachibana, the more stoic, analytical member of the group, with dark hair to match; and Sakura, the more easygoing, calming presence, with light, spiky hair to reflect that personality. Tachibana and Sakura are drawn as bishonen, or pretty boys, which will undoubtedly send the more hard-core (read: crazy) fans scrambling over themselves as they write various boys' love fan fiction tales featuring the two, umm, interacting with each other and other similar bishonen across the CLAMP-iverse.

In the process of skewering these tropes, though, one can't help but think: This is a CLAMP series we're talking about here! The group's had fans worldwide following their work since 1989! Surely there's some redeeming quality, some point where things start clicking and the story kicks into a higher gear! There always is!

To which I reply: Sometimes there is no higher gear. Just look at what some critics said about CLAMP's Kobato at San Diego Comic-Con's "Best and Worst Manga 2012" panel. (It wasn't pretty.)

Gate 7 v1 manga coverAs for Gate 7, it looks like that redeeming quality is going to have to wait for a future volume. Because aside from the group's trademark gorgeous artwork, teeming with lines and strokes that are at turns intricate and delicate and bold and energetic, it takes a considerable amount of effort to figure out exactly what's going on. There are eight pages of translation notes in the back of the book. You will be referring to them frequently to refresh your memory on what the ura-shichiken is (it's a term referring to "Seven Secret Houses" or "Seven Back Houses") or how Chikahito is not from an inou family (a term described as being comprised of the kanji for "unusual" and "mind") or to investigate one of the multiple historical details about Kyoto that CLAMP has injected into the Gate 7 mythos.

Whether readers stick with Gate 7 beyond the first volume really depends on how willing they are to put in this extra effort to understand what's going on, and how patient they are to see things through.

But here's one more point to consider: The ground covered in this first volume -- 168 pages worth -- would have covered roughly two mangettes worth of material that would have been released over a two-month span. Volume 1 of the Gate 7 manga was released in October; volume 2, in February. It may be like comparing apples and oranges at this point, but it seems highly likely that readers would have given up on Gate 7, with its current story, faster with its condensed release schedule than they would with several months in between to process what they read.

Perhaps, in the case of Gate 7, it was for the best that the mangette revolution remained just a patchwork of dreams rather than a concrete reality.

Rest in peace, Dave Thorne

July 22nd, 2012
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Dave Thorne at a cartooning lecture at McCully-Moiliili Library, April 16, 2011.

Dave Thorne at a cartooning lecture at McCully-Moiliili Library, April 16, 2011.

Posted to the Dave Thorne Get Well Page (Facebook login required) a few hours ago by son Randy Thorne:

Our Dearest friends and family: Our father, uncle, friend, mentor, teacher, husband, and bringer of aloha to everyone he met, passed over last night at about 12:30 am Hawaiian time. He suffered from a major stroke Friday which his body and most importantly his brain unfortunately could not recover from. He was surrounded with friends and family when the difficult decision was made to discontinue life support. He transitioned peacefully and without any duress. It is now up to everyone he has impacted to continue his legacy of Aloha. He will live on in all of us!

Mahalo Nui Loa for all of your prayers and best wishes. His "Celebration of Life" arrangements are pending. Love and Aloha, Randy

Those of you who read the Star-Advertiser knew Dave as the cartoonist and creative mastermind behind the Sunday comic strip "Thorney's Zoo." Here's the archive through what would turn out to be his final "Thorney's Zoo" strip, Oct. 30, 2011: http://www.staradvertiser.com/features/sundaycomics/thorneyszoo/ It's a big loss for the cartooning community, both locally and globally, to be sure.

I'll have more thoughts and a tribute when I'm able to write them up, hopefully later this week.

Kickstarter talk is in the air, everywhere

July 21st, 2012
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I have to admit that when it comes to communication, I'm far more comfortable with the written word than I am with speaking to people. Part of the reason is that I really hate the way my voice sounds when I'm speaking. The other part is that I get nervous as heck ... I'm really quite awkward in social situations, too.

So that's why, in the 10 years I've been working the anime/manga beat (yup! 10 years!), I've only willingly put myself in front of a recording device all of two times. The first time was for this video interview with then-Anime Vice editor-in-chief, current Anime News Network contributing writer, and still all-around cool cat Gia Manry, posted to the site on Feb. 28, 2009.

Here's the original Anime Vice page that it was posted on. Note the comment by RedRose. And now you know why, three years, four months and 23 days and counting, I have yet to watch a single second of this footage. The memories of that day -- lunch at Ulupalakua Ranch in upcountry Maui, followed by that interview with me and all my apparent head-bobbing glory -- are more than enough for me, thankyewverymuch.

I would've been perfectly happy with that being my first and last venture into the recorded-for-the-Internet world, but alas, fate sometimes has a way of taking plans, ripping them up, stomping on them and then grinding them in to the dirt. And its roots were planted in my Twitter enthusiasm for Digital Manga Publishing's Kickstarter drive for Osamu Tezuka's Unico, Atomcat and Triton of the Sea, which, as of my writing this post, was just a few hours from completion.

In retrospect, perhaps my cheerleading was a bit much. It's easy to get caught up in the Kickstarter hype, watching the contribution level rising, knowing that you, yes, you, are one of the people helping to make the project pitch become a reality. (Full disclosure: I signed on for one of the limited "Power of Love" $165 packages.) But I was not expecting to get this kind of response to one of my tweets in late June.

I met Glenn Kardy, the man behind @MangaUniversity, at HEXXP in 2010. Great guy. Totally respect him. I feel really bad that I've never had a chance to write up the interview I did with him at that convention. But that tweet, along with a follow-up response from Ed Chavez at Vertical, opened the floodgates for several days' worth of Twitter discussion debating the merits of a large manga publisher like DMP using Kickstarter as a way of funding their book-publishing ventures. It's a discussion that I by and large stayed out of, not wanting to stir up any more controversy than I already had.

Manga Out Loud. Podcast by Ed Sizemore. Cute logo by Lissa Patillo.It was around this time that Ed Sizemore, co-host of the "Manga Out Loud" podcast with Johanna Draper Carlson, contacted me about being a podcast guest. I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant at first -- me? Why me? I'm just a fan out here in the middle of the Pacific who's already seen his best days in the sun and is now slowly fading away, tucked away in a corner of the sprawling staradvertiser.com network of sites. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that yeah, I probably could hold my own. And hopefully the other people Ed invited would be able to carry the load as well.

The other guests were great. Joining me via Skype in recording on Monday were Erica Friedman, president and founder of Yuricon and ALC Publishing and writer of the Okazu blog, and Ben Applegate, one of the people behind the DMP Kickstarter campaign who's now picked up additional work at Kodansha USA. We talked at length about the Kickstarter campaign -- there, you can find out the reason why I haven't mentioned the DMP Kickstarter on Twitter since that time -- and Erica, Ed, Johanna and myself also discussed Tokyopop's resurrection and Viz's new Neon Alley anime venture on the PlayStation Network. It was quite the experience, I must say ... especially listening live to some of the parts that I think Ed left on the cutting-room floor. (I won't divulge the nature of the discussion. I'll just say that for the four of us around for that particular part of the recording session, it was ... pretty wild.) I understand Matt Blind, he of the Rocket Bomber blog chock full of manga sales statistics and retail bookseller commentary, also joined Ed on another day to talk about Kickstarter.

So yes, you'll probably want to give this month's edition of "Manga Out Loud" a listen, to hear our great discussion and cringe at the nails-on-chalkboard quality of my voice. You can find show notes and a download link at mangaoutloud.com/webpage/episode-61-more-kickstarter-with-matt-blind-erica-friedman-jason-yadao-ben-applegate. That podcast officially makes it the second time that my voice has been recorded for the internet.

Will there ever be a third opportunity? We shall see. My inner voice is screaming at me "OH DEAR GOD NOOOOOOOOOOO," but my sense of self-confidence has a tendency every so often to grab a giant mallet, bonk it over the head and knock it out. You never know.

The Cel Shaded Report, 7/20: Beach blanket Tokyo Babylon

July 20th, 2012
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Otaku culture is fundamentally based around indoor activities. Sure, you see fans venturing outside every once in a while for sketch meets and cosplay shoots, but for the most part they stay indoors to watch their anime, indoors to play their video games, and indoors to curl up and read some manga.

kawaii-kon-logoAnd so, it's time for Kawaii Kon's annual reminder that going outdoors can be fun for anime and manga fans, too. The local anime convention is hosting its third annual beach day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Ala Moana Beach Park. Much of what I wrote about last year's beach day still applies -- pack a lunch, smash a watermelon, build a sand sculpture, enter a beach cosplay contest, here's a map of beach day site Pavilion 28AB -- along with a few new twists:

  • The water-battling weaponry has been upgraded, so instead of water balloons, be prepared for all-out water gun warfare. Bring one for yourself. Maybe a few for your allies, too, if you're the type of person who builds alliances. Unless you're the lone wolf Golgo 13 type, in which case I suppose you wouldn't.
  • You can get a prize just by showing up in beach-themed cosplay (while supplies last, of course).
  • The best sand sculpture earns a three-day pass to Kawaii Kon 2013.

For any updates (and to join in the discussion, if you're so inclined), visit www.facebook.com/events/241922289244420/

Anime around town

Aiea Library Anime Club: 3 p.m. Saturday at the library, 99-143 Moanalua Road. This month, librarian Diane Masaki will be screening the first few episodes of Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancy. For more information or to RSVP, call 483-7333 or e-mail aiealibraryanimeclub@yahoo.com.

The Cel Shaded Report, 7/12: "Nakamaboko" with Comic Jam

July 12th, 2012
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nakamaboko2

We've been looking this week at MangaBento's "Nakamaboko" exhibit, with its giant octopus, intricate artwork and a dorky anime/manga blogger playing with the interactive comic wall. You have until Saturday to look at it in person in the second-floor gallery of the Honolulu Museum of Art School (1111 Victoria St.)

There's one more section of the exhibit to cover here in Otaku Ohana, this one showcasing the work of another group: Comic Jam Hawaii, the cartoonist/artist collective that's been gathering monthly to fellowship and draw cartoons, illustrations and sketches together. As these pictures show, they have a lot of fun at these get-togethers.

Here's the gallery link for those of you who are Flashless or Flash-averse: www.flickr.com/photos/sumiyoshi/sets/72157630546908662/

As I note in the gallery intro on Flickr, Comic Jam Hawaii usually meets from 6 to 9 p.m. every last Wednesday of the month at Kahala Mall. This month, though, members are making a special appearance at two events, both of which are on Saturday. The first appearance, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., will be at Pearlridge Center in conjunction with the mall's "Hall of Heroes" superhero exhibit. Look for them in the space in Pearlridge Uptown where Borders used to be (*sniffle*).

Not only will they be sketching and inviting visitors to join in, they'll also be giving away packs of nine random "chibi-fied" superhero cards from a set of 93 images the artists have drawn over the past few weeks. (One free pack per person, please.) Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America, Wolverine ... they're all in there, and then some. There's even a chance of snagging some original artwork. But we're all about giving the Japanese properties a little extra push here in Otaku Ohana, so here are previews of MidWeek cartoonist Roy Chang's Astro Boy card ...

Astro Boy by Roy Chang

... and Star-Advertiser "Calabash" cartoonist Jon Murakami's take on Kikaida.

Kikaida by Jon Murakami

You know you want 'em. (I know I do.) Also, if you spend $50 at Pearlridge on Saturday, you can get a copy of Jon's book, "If You Were a Superhero in Hawaii." Not a bad way to spend a few hours, really.

After their stint at Pearlridge, the gang will be heading down Moanalua Road a bit and setting up shop at Aiea Library from 2 to 5 p.m., where they'll continue to sketch and offer various sketching activities for children of all ages.

Want to learn more about Comic Jam Hawaii? You'll have to be logged in to a Facebook account; if you are, visit www.facebook.com/groups/147779161986428/

Anime around town

The Dragonfly Kickstarter: There's just a few hours left to pledge support for the live-action "Kikaida meets X-Files" superhero show from the creator of Pineapple Man, Sam Campos. And truth be told, at only 12% of its $50,000 goal raised, the chances of it getting funded are remote at best. But you never know, I could be surprised by a flurry of contributors in the stretch run. The campaign ends at noon Friday; visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/195805089/dragonfly-0 for details.

pen and ink works logoPen & Ink Works: This group of anime/manga-inspired artists is celebrating its first anniversary with a manga printmaking activity Saturday at ArtSpree, the annual family art festival at the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House (the former Contemporary Museum) in Makiki. Create your own manga characters with help from Pen & Ink Works members, and enjoy the food, activities and entertainment available across the entire Spalding House campus. ArtSpree runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission is free. (Be advised that parking will not be available at Spalding House; visitors are advised to park at Punahou School and catch the free shuttle.) For more on ArtSpree, visit honolulumuseum.org/12787-artspree; for more on Pen & Ink Works, visit peninkworks.wordpress.com.

hexxp-logoHEXXP: The biggest recent news out of the pop culture convention home of Nobuo Uematsu, a World Cosplay Summit regional qualifying round, a Macross 25th anniversary exhibit and the Miku Hatsune DJ Dance Party is that it's expanding to three days of programming from two. Yes, HEXXP is now running from Friday, Oct. 19 through Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Aloha Tower Marketplace. For those of you who have already preregistered, your passes now cover that extra day.

Those of you who missed out on the first round of VIP passes also now have a second chance; the second and final block of 150 passes recently went on sale. They aren't cheap -- $175, compared to the standard $55 for a regular all-days pass -- but they do grant access to a special VIP lounge where con guests will be making regular appearances and express, preferred seating at special events.

And finally, I've gotten word that two more guest announcements will be made, possibly as soon next week. Stay tuned.

For more information, visit www.hexxp.com.