There’s Indie Hipster Manga, Too!

By Shannon H

The manga release list this week has been culled back from the usual extravaganza we’ve been getting used to as of late. For me, the most exciting of the new books is without a doubt the newest volume of Fairy Tail, but I’ve already had a nerdgasm about that in this column, so you’re off the hook this week. At least as far as Fairy Tail is concerned. That doesn’t mean you are exempt from my elitist railing about what is a cut above the rest, though! This time you get to hear me talk about some under-the-radar manga-ka you probably should start paying attention to, so that you can like them before they’re cool. And be ironic about it, or whatever it is you hipster kids value these days.

The first flail-worthy artist to talk about is Natsume Ono, who is about as indie as manga can possibly get. Honestly, looking at her art you might not even recognize it as being Japanese, since the designs have a much more American underground look to them. But if you know a thing or two about the history and tradition of comics in Japan, you’ll know right away that Ono’s work is as manga as you can get. Her layouts and inking style are very indicative of a manga-ka, proving that manga isn’t made so much by shiny-shiny desu animu girls and giant eyes, but rather by the actual construction of the comic itself, with cinematic layouts, and traditionally inked and screen-toned images.

But Ono’s work is more than ironically cool visuals. Her stories are incredible slice of life vignettes that portray everyday relationships with sincerity and grace. This week we are being treated to the first printing of La Quinta Obscura, Ono’s breakout manga in 2003. Like Gente and Ristorante Paradiso, La Quinta Obscura takes place in Italy and revolves around the coinciding lives of a tight-knit group of gentlemen. But if slice of life isn’t your thing, Ono has some amazing Eto period work, like House of the Five Leaves, which was turned into an anime by Studio Manglobe (which is probably most famous for delivering Samurai Champloo). Anyone who had a taste for the adventures of Mugen, Jin and Fuu is definitely required to check out House of the Five Leaves for round two of that same sort of satisfaction.

The other artist to get excited over is much more notorious — at least in Japan, he is. His name is Mitsuru Adachi, and in the Land of the Rising Sun, he is almost as important to manga as Rumiko Takahashi herself. Most famous for writing seinen sports manga about baseball, Adachi is another master at human interaction and touching storylines. Though his art is much more traditional and retro than that of Ono, he is just as skilled at creating realistic atmospheres and moods throughout his work, with a real gift for pacing and paneling. It’s amazing that it was only this year that Viz started localizing any of his work, but it’s truly been a real treat for us US manga fans.

The book to look out for is entitled Cross Game, and volume 4 came to us last week. The story revolves around Ko, whose parents run a sporting goods store that supplies equipment to a nearby batting center, which is run by four sisters and their father. As a boy, Ko shared a sort of puppy love romance with Wakaba, one of the middle sisters. On each of her birthdays Ko promised to deliver a one item from a list. The list ends on her 18th birthday with a proposal of marriage proposal that would come after Ko hasbecome the greatest pitcher in Japan. Unfortunately, Wakaba is soon lost in a freak hiking accident, but Ko continues to adhere to the list, steadfastly improving his baseball skills as he grows older. But that’s just the skeleton plot to propel the incredible tapestry of relationships that Adachi has created, such as the resentment Aoba, the other middle sister, still holds against Ko, the complicated comraderie shared by various teammates, or what it’s like to be Aoba, the only girl on the team! Whether you like baseball or not, this manga will teach you why it’s become such an international pastime.

So batter up!

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