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26 of 30 chapters read
My feelings on the beginning of the manga are mixed. The first volume (collected in English) is very episodic, which is cool, but a lot of the episodes are cliched, which isn’t. Yun Kouga has a very stong design sense, which is cool, but there almost no backgrounds, which isn’t (this reminds me of Clover, although Earthian is not as overdesigned as Clover).
What’s really notable about this volume, though, is the sense of mounting dread. Starting from the very first chapter, and definitely by the second, you get the feeling that something is VERY VERY WRONG here. The plot is that Angels, who come from a planet called Eden, are sent down to Earth in pairs. One member marks down everything good that humans do (plusses), and the other marks down everything bad (minuses), and if the score ever reaches -10,000, the earth will be destroyed. And this has been going on for five billion years.
The whole set-up is fishy. The first thing you wonder is why the Earth hasn’t been destroyed already — with purposeful acts of genocide stacked against policeman helping little old ladies to cross the street, isn’t it obvious where the advantage lies? The next and more significant thing you wonder is, what gives Angels the right to judge humanity?
There are a lot of clues that they don’t have the right. Both checkers, plus and minus, are flawed. They’re far from impartial. Chihaya is too willing to see good and overlook evil, and he makes a lot of mistakes; Kagetsuya claims to hate Earthians (although whether he really does is not clear) and allows his feelings for Chihaya to influence his work. The system itself is questionable because it’s not clear what standard is being employed to decide “good” or “bad” — there’s no rubric or anything, so everything in the Checker’s reports is a subjective value judgement. Most importantly, it isn’t clear that Angel society is inherently any better than human society. It has problems, I won’t go into them, but they’re obvious — and “homosexuality is evil and a sin” is one of them.
In the second and third volumes, these themes become much more explicit. The Angel characters argue the morality of their actions and discuss whether their society is just - including, in one memorable scene, an impassioned defence of homosexual and other "deviant" types of love in court. Other Angel plus/minus pairs, as well as other Angel homosexual pairs, enter the story and are compared to Chihaya and Kagetsuya. Their backgrounds, personalities, motivations, and roles in society are all discussed, in a quite original and thought-provoking way.
If Earthian has one really strong point, it is that the entire manga is designed to be subversive. It's designed to make you question the rules of society, as well as traditional notions of masculine/feminine, dominant/submissive, and strong/weak. The characters are all very strong, and quite complex: relationship dynamics are rarely what they seem to be on the surface. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about this manga is seeing your original views of who the characters are and what they value totally upended.
This is a manga for people who enjoy thinking about things. Oh, and while its science fiction plot doesn't quite make sense (can Angels really have been monitoring humanity for 5 billion years, when humanity has only been around for 2 million years?), it does have a lot of cool elements: special powers, teleportation, killer robots, space ships, rapid ageing, mysterious diseases, etc. Although somewhat dated by this point, Earthian is well worth reading, especially in the four-volume collected English version. read more
27 of 176 chapters read
Quick Overview: Shujin (writer) and Mashiro (artist) decide to team up in middle school. They share the same goal, of getting published in Jump, coming in #1 in the popularity polls, and having their work made into a anime so that Mashiro's childhood sweetheart (a would-be voice actress) can play the title role. As in Death Note, the story is fast-paced, especially compared to other shounen manga - after the first three volumes, nearly three years have passed!
Writing: As is often the case in the best shounen manga, you can learn something about the field the protagonists are attempting to conquer - in this case, the world of professional mangaka - by reading Bakuman. There's a lot of actually very good analysis of Jump manga from a business point of view, as well as behind-the-scenes-in-the-editors-room kind of stuff. There's no fantasy wish-fulfillment angle and everything the pair accomplishes together is shown to be the result of hard work. As in, Shuji and Masahiro really do spend all their time writing manga, drawing manga, discussing manga, and learning the business of manga. And as in, Ohba (the series writer) really does come up with a separate believable (often sci-fi-ish and vaguely familiar) premise for every manga they dream up - premises that are good enough that I would be interested in reading those manga.
Another review mentioned that the characters are shallow. This is sadly true. There seems to be a "Theory of Mind" failure on Ohba's part here, in that the secondary characters all either agree with the protagonists and support their vision, or are irrational. That said, the character designs actually vary a lot, so that the characters are all easily distinguished from one another. They might not have fully realized personalities, but they do have interesting and varied personality quirks. Also, (again as in Death Note) one of my favourite things about this manga is the interaction between the two leads. They act less like friends or collaborators and more like two halves of the same brain, playing off each other, coming up with ideas together, and supporting each other in romance. Who doesn't want a BFF friend like that?
Art: Bakuman is a good showpiece for Obata (the series artist), since the art changes depending on the flavor of manga currently under discussion - Heavy for the surrealist gag manga author, Loose for the One Piece-ish author, Grafitti for the scenes with the mangaka who does funny violence, Wistful for the former Margaret author, etc. (Sorry for the non-technical terms: I'm not an artist.) The art is most "Obata-like" when he is focusing on the main pair's own story. Although sometimes more sloppy than his work on Death Note or Hikaru no Go, the art is still amazing.
Drawbacks: Well, there was that plot line that promoted overwork to the point of hospitalization. (And here I thought a Jump manga that added "talent, intelligence, luck" to the "friendship, hardwork, loyalty" Jump formula could avoid that trap! Silly me!) However, since I enjoy screaming at the stupidity of counter-productively hard-working shounen heroes, this wasn't really a drawback for me. :)
Much more troubling is this manga's HARDCORE sexism. I sense the hand of an editor, somewhere, in the introduction of the karate-loving girlfriend who beats up the writer every time he says or does something stupid. (Subtle, no! But effective, yes!) However, even the editors can't keep Ohba from sneaking in the misogynist plots and commentary.
Let's count the ways in which this title is sexist: Ohba never skips a chance to bash on shoujo manga or dismiss the opinions of female readers (30% of Jump's readership). He doesn't trust pretty girls but automatically dismisses from consideration any girls who are NOT pretty. He allows that girls can be smart but maintains that smart girls have warped and overly assertive personalities. There is a story line centered around "training" a shoujo author to do panty shots. There is a story line centered around marrying your girlfriend to shut her up.
... To be fair, really bottom of the barrel guys have their characters dragged through the mud, too. But that's just it, there's such a disparity between the basic decency and grooming required of men and the sainthood and flawless beauty required of women, it is absolutely, positively ridiculous. My only comfort in all this is that while a lot of Jump series are casually sexist, in that there just aren't many strong female characters who play large roles in the story, Bakuman, because it is actively sexist and misogynist, paradoxically includes many more smart, beautiful, capable women whose only failing is that they put up with way too much abuse from Bakuman's sexist pig male characters.
In other words, there's actually a degree of realism here not present in other Jump series, which have only weak or passive women. In this case, what the readers see (smart, beautiful, capable women) is quite different from what the author, living within his own neuroses, expects them to see (stuck up bitches). At the same time I despair, because the average Jump reader is still a 15 year old boy, so these kinds of distinctions may be lost.
Bah. Anyway, sexism aside, this is actually a very good manga. I recommend it especially to people who want to learn more about what it takes to become a Shounen Jump mangaka. Most of all, Bakuman is a pretty good how-to guide for submitting to Jump. Maybe it'll be to Shonen Jump submissions as Hikaru no Go was to professional Go... or maybe detailing the sheer amount of effort involved in becoming a professional mangaka for Jump will scare prospective artists away. :p
My marks off are all for misogyny. It's too bad, because I otherwise really enjoy this manga. read more
10 of 54 chapters read
7 of 127 chapters read
The story is that a mysterious disease is poised to completely wipe out Earth’s population. Somehow, though, this doesn’t happen -- rather, when the dust settles, 15% of the population is dead, and the balance of world power has shifted. Now small groups are fighting against consolidation into a single world government, called PROPATRIA, which is primarily made up of countries whose official language is English. But the virus is still hanging around, and might be intelligent…
Post-apocalyptic stories always hypothesize a Crisis by projecting the worst parts of the present into the future, and Eden is very much a projection of the early nineties: it's all about ethnic conflict, nationalism, racism, the third world, and the drug trade. (Though these are all still important issues, these days we've shifted to global warming and natural disasters as the forces most likely to tear the world apart.) Endo has said in an afterword to one of the volumes that he got the idea of a powerful drug lord "terrorist" from Noam Chomsky, who theorized that only the drug trade would be lucrative enough, and illegal enough, to fund the resistance of third-world countries to first-world hegemony.
In other words: yes, this is THAT kind of story. Technical detail, philosophical and ethical quandaries, conspiracy, the Big Picture -- these things are everywhere. Eden is not light reading by anyone's definition. Fortunately, the manga's political themes don't overwhelm the characters. It's hard not to be fascinated by Ennoea, South America's most powerful drug lord, a man who advocates "infinite kindness to those you care about, infinite cruelty to everyone else." Or not to empathize with his son Elijah who, when the story opens, is struggling to survive alone in the wilderness. It's a testament to Endo's powers as a storyteller that as Elijah's actions became less defensible -- as he moves from "cute and innocent" to "unflinchingly brutal" -- he never once loses your sympathy. Instead, his actions seem simply logical -- a clear, considered, even admirable matter of prioritizing his own survival.
 Often only explained in footnotes. Though thorough, Endo's worldbuilding can be difficult to get a grip on, due to the large amount of information he brings in and the relative scarcity of explanatory notes. Another possible drawback to this series is that the author's interest in everything -- artificial intelligence, guerrilla tactics, street gangs, sociopathology, prostitution, the list goes on and on -- often diverts the story in tangential directions, making it difficult to say for certain what any of it is about. However, if you are deeply interested in geopolitics or political thrillers, or yearn for a story with serious ethical and philosophical weight, I would recommend Eden without reservations. read more
...let's try that again. The amazing thing about this manga is that Sugiura doesn’t forget *anything*. I hear she only plans two or three chapters in advance? But considering the size of the chapters this is like planning an entire volume in advance. Her attention to detail is, frankly, obsessive, but it's that obsession that makes Silver Diamond so very, very, very solid.
A bit of history: Sugiura Shiho's previous work, Koori no mamono no monogatari (Ice Cold Demon's Tale), ran to 24 volumes -- an insane, unheard-of length for a BL (Boys Love) manga. However she has said that Silver Diamond will (probably) be shorter. read more
But at the end of the day, I think Ai Yazawa's Paradise Kiss is better, because it is tighter. Nana is full of drama and suspense and heartbreak and really messed up characters, but it tends to drag, especially in the later volumes. read more
10 of 28 chapters read