Quick Picks #6 – Witches, Spirits, and Songs

Quick Picks is an occasionally written series of microreviews of books I’ve read over the past two weeks. Here’s a selection of manga I’ve been reading recently.

Flying Witch #1 – Vertical Inc.’s big Spring debut, this series started its life in the USA with a relatively popular anime adaption. Vertical later picked up the title, and it fits the publisher’s previous slice-of-life comedy fairly snugly. The main character Makoto is a witch in training, and moves in with her cousins who live in a rural part of Japan in order to complete her training. We see her capture a mandrake, get lost, and adapt to country life. She meets some people, and integrates with her cousins.

My first impression of the anime is that it had some… gaze issues, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the comic. The illustration is pared down, bordering on the simplistic, and the comedy is situational. Slice of life comics can be slow and boring if not precisely executed, and while the magical realism of Flying Witch helps with that a bit, it doesn’t negate it entirely. I liked this first volume, and it’s certainly one of the more benign manga I’ve recently read, but unless you love the idea of modern witchery in Japan or slice of life comics, this volume might be a little slow.

Anonymous Noise #1 – it took me a few minutes to place Ryoko Fukuyama’s name – this isn’t her first English license, as I had originally thought, but rather her second. The first was Nosatsu Junkie, originally published by Tokyopop, which stopped after 6 volumes (this license was one of their last before they went defunct, and the series was not completed). Now Viz is back with Anonymous Noise, a story about a singer named Nino who is twice abandoned by boys she likes, first by childhood friend Momo whose parents skip town, and second by Yuzu, a child composer. When she meets back up with Yuzu in high school, she’s thrust into the limelight because of her beautiful singing voice; but despite hanging out with Yuzu, she’s still pining for Momo, her old childhood friend. Fukuyama is obviously setting up the main love triangle, and it’s not immediately obvious where that is going to head.

I’m not sure what to think about Anonymous Noise. My initial impression was good, but I’ll admit that the book felt slapdash. Fukuyama basically skates through this volume because the emotion is so raw and well realized, but that doesn’t change the fact that the first few chapters are a hot mess. We get introduced to all the characters, they promptly age up, and then things kind of go off the handle. There’s a lot to take in – Yuzu is cross dressing and singing in a really popular band, which is dissolving, and he’s also in the pop music club in highschool (also dissolving), Nino wears a surgical mask all the time to keep from screaming? and breaks out into song at the drop of a hat. Momo is back in town, but we still haven’t seen his reunion with Nino. And this is just the immediately obvious stuff. There’s something to be said for melodrama and angst in shojo manga, but it has to be focused, otherwise it just feels explosive.

I’m probably being overly critical here, because I really liked Anonymous Noise, but if the plot doesn’t start hitting its stride by volume 2, I’m not sure I’ll stick with it.

In/Spectre #1 – A November 2016 release from Kodansha, In/Spectre is an adaptation of a novel by Kyo Shirodaira by artist Chashiba Katase, and follows a mystic named Kotoko and Kuro a guy with superhuman powers. Both are intricately connected to the world of yokai, the spirits/demons/monsters of Japanese mythology, and both have lost important things because of these ties.

Sort of like a mix between Sherlock Holmes, Law & Order, and Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro, the comic treads some uneasy territory. The first volume shows In/Spectre trying to find its footing, and trying to figure out what story it wants to tell. The two main characters, Kotoko and Kuro could end up like partners in a police drama, or it could be significantly weirder. No matter what the progression will end up like, Katase’s art really carries the book in volume 1 – a less accomplished artist might have sunk the project before it could get off the ground.

In/Spectre is the first manga I’ve seen where a person with a disability is featured as a strong main character. Kotoko is missing a leg and an eye, and she wears a prosthesis. This comes up a few times as a plot point, and it’s interesting to see how the creators work with that disability.  Kotoko’s personality and forwardness lead to a couple of off color situations that I thought were a little off putting, including a poorly executed joke about “deflowering.” Work with what you’re given, I guess, but still, an aspect of the book I didn’t particularly care for.

On the whole, In/Spectre starts in a strong place, and depending on how the next few volumes pan out, this could be the start of a very strong seinen series for Kodansha.


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