Review/Rant: 100 Manga Artists by Amano Masanao

100 Manga Artists.jpg100 Manga Artists / by Amano Masanao ; edited by Julius Wiedemann.

Köln : Taschen GmbH, [2017] ©2017

9783836526470

Original edition published as: Manga Design. Amano, Masanao. Köln : Taschen, c2004.

 

Before you get too far into this review, know that this is effectively the WORST book I’ve read on anime/manga… and I’ve read my fair share! It’s poorly written (I hope the parallel French and German text were better), is inconsistently formatted, provides no useful information, and is an unbalanced and creepy curation that leans heavily toward the over-sexualized.

I was fooled. I was fooled by photographs of a kindly online recommendation. I was fooled by the cover design/title (which I’ll get to later). I was fooled by the publisher whose works I usually appreciate (At least as coffee table books). And, I was fooled by the $10 price tag. I should have known better.

So before I get too far into rant mode, I should probably describe the book. This is a relatively small-trim sized 5.7 x 7.9 inches and chunky 672 pages hardcover book. As far as coffee table books go, it is appealing: a fun size crammed with black and white manga illustrations. Inside, each artist is introduced in a short paragraph with parallel text in English (first), followed by French and German, and 3 to 6 full page examples of that artist’s manga on thick glossy pages.

The actual publishing quality of the book is good, but the content leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Design:

I was originally hesitating to pick this up because of the hideous cover design, and also I’m not usually very interested in these types of encyclopedic surveys of anime and manga. I know because I read them. But, a little push from an online recommendation, and the $10 price tag were enough to reel me in. I’m always weak-willed to any books about manga.

The title “100 Manga Artists” sounds like it will be an encyclopedic work (which it is), featuring 100 different manga artists (which it does) and talking about those artists and/or why they are important (which it doesn’t). There are 100 manga artists named, and their work shown, but there is little to information about the artists themselves or why they were even included in this book. The text was merely there to briefly describe the plot of one or two of that artists’ more notable manga (notable, according to the author).

manga designThis lack of biographical information had me questioning the title. Why was it called 100 Manga Artists? I quickly realized that this had everything to do with marketing, and nothing to do with content. This is actually a “revised” edition of a previous book published by Taschen. That book was called “Manga Design”. Though, I would also take issue with that title, it is definitely more appropriate to the content of this book than “100 Manga Artists”. The Artists aren’t given any importance in this book. It is not at all about Manga Artists.

Book titles are changed for one reason – to make money. You most often see book titles change when there is a movie to tie-in (for example “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” was recently re-published under it’s movie name, “Love, Simon”). It also happens a lot when books are published in different countries (for example “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone”. There are a few other reasons, but these are the easiest examples to think of.

There was no reason to change the title of the book “Manga Design” except that the author or publisher wanted to make money. Best way to do that, especially if people have already read the first edition and realize they don’t need another copy, is to change the name and fool the idiots (i.e. me) who didn’t do their homework before picking it up.

This appears to be a quality published book, by a publisher who often puts out respected coffee-table style art history books. I have always trusted them to produce beautiful, well written books for the layperson. But, the quality of the content of this book is so poor, and the fact that they had to change the title of the book for no visible reason except to trick potential patrons, seriously damages my trust in this company.

 

Writing:

The first sentence of the introduction had me immediately excited, “Manga are Japanese comics created for Japanese readers.” Oddly enough, the term manga is rarely defined in these type of books as anything more than Japanese comics. Even academia seems to forget this important sentence when they are writing about manga for academic journals and other research papers. So, when I read this statement I was anticipating great things! Not only is it rare to get a definition about manga in writings on manga, but it is doubly rare for me to agree with said definition. This author has caught the most important defining aspect of what manga is in their first sentence, “for Japanese readers.” I’ve never read anyone write that before… except me. Unfortunately this wave of brilliance soon departed. The rest of the writing in this book, which I will say is fairly lean, is not brilliant. It is poor. And, I found myself having to read passages aloud to my sister (who was baking pies in the kitchen at the time) in exasperation.

The most hair-pulling example of this writing comes from the paragraph introducing Jiro Taniguchi (page 540).

Jiro Taniguchi is a talented artist who is always breaking new ground with different kinds of images for every new story or theme he pursues. He thoroughly researches each of his stories. When he was first starting out, he created interesting hard-boiled action pieces. He then experimented with a variety of themes. […]

ARE YOU KIDDING?!! A grade-schooler could construct better sentences than this! Forget that Jiro Taniguchi “researches each of his stories”, this makes me wonder whether this author researched for their book at all!

Now, not all of the blame can lie on the original author. This was originally written in Japanese (as far as I can tell), so the translator also gets to share in the brunt of my annoyance.

“He thoroughly researches each of his stories.”

I’m assuming that the author meant that he does research before working on a story, or researches for each of his stories, but to say “he researches his stories” implies that he goes back after the story is written and collects any articles or papers that discuss them.

I could go on.

On top of the plethora of problems with this writing there is also no style. If they had to write each sentence in a passive voice, and start 90% of the sentences (this may be an exaggeration, I’m really frustrated and don’t feel like counting) with the word “He”, wouldn’t it have been a better option to just use bullet points to organize?

But then, what is there to put into bullet points? Try this experiment: ask yourself what concrete information you have learned when you read the short paragraph above.

Give up?

Let me give you a hint:

Jiro Taniguchi created more than one art thing.

That’s it! This statement may seem a bit facetious, but NOTHING else is stated in these sentences. The rest is supposition and posturing with none of the necessary details or explanation which give concrete meaning to the words.

This wouldn’t frustrate me so much, except that I feel like these words are a complete waste of space (and waste of my time). This block of text is 1/3 of the description used for Jiro Taniguchi. The remaining 2/3 of text is a quick list of some of his more famous titles and their topics (NOT their themes). And to top it off, of all of the works listed, not one of them includes what anyone would call a “hard-boiled action piece.”

So the writing is poor. The content is non-existent. And I still have another objection! [Can you hear my voice getting louder, because it is!] That problem is inconsistent formatting.

I haven’t mentioned yet, but in addition to the short paragraph to introduce the artist (or whatever it’s doing, I’m not really sure), there is a short list of facts for each artist (in English only). These facts can include: when and where they were born, their debut work, their best known works, anime adaptations of their works, and some prizes they’ve won.

But the use of these facts is inconsistent, and therefore untrustworthy. In the category for anime adaptations, for example, some artists who have known anime adaptations of their works have a short listing, but some don’t. This is also true of the awards listings.

The listings of “best known works” is what tipped me off to this issue in the first place. Back to the example of Jiro Taniguchi:

Best known works

“Unu o kau” [Owning a Dog]

“Kamigami no itadaki”

“Botchan no jidai”

Umm…

So, someone explain to me why the first title was translated into English, but the other two weren’t? Especially considering that the other two titles are BOTH published in English, this wouldn’t have been difficult to resolve.

And if we ignore that gross oversight, why weren’t these titles printed in Japanese with the plain phonetic pronunciation beside them, instead of the phonetic pronunciation alone? Why?! Why, I ask you?!

 

Curation:

The last thing I want to talk about is the creepy curation. I don’t understand why certain artists were included, and some artists weren’t. And, why certain manga illustrations were included instead of something else. After reading this book, I did go online and check other people’s reviews, and some of them stated that they liked the variety of artists discussed. So, this may be more subjective than my other arguments. But let me at least describe what I see:

Page 6: Flipping to the introduction, the illustration to the left comes from (I’m assuming by the art style) Mitsuru Adachi where a girl appears to be boxing (probably from the manga Katsu), falls over, and lands with her panties exposed while a bunch of men watch.

Page 25: Koji Aihara. The illustrations used directly beside the introduction is a 4-koma sequence that ends in a rambunctious theesome.

Page 31: Ken Akamatsu. The illustration used directly beside the introduction is from Negima. The little wizard boy performs some magic, and the girl in question’s clothes blow off.

Page 49: Moyocco Anno. The illustration used directly beside the introduction is from Flowers and Bees. If you can’t read Japanese or haven’t read the original story, this wouldn’t look like much. But, this is the moment that the two female hairdressers proposition the main boy and suggest that having sex with them will make him more appealing to women (right before they rape him).

Page 79: Kiyohiko Azuma. The illustration used directly beside the introduction is from Azumanga Daioh. Again, you’d need to know the series or Japanese to get it. But, this is a sports scene where Tomo tells Sakaki-san to step back because her boobs give her too much of a lead when they race.

 

In my opinion there is an over-use of unnecessarily sexual content. Mitsuru Adachi, and Kiyohiko Azuma are far from artists who I would think of when I would discuss fan service. Yes, I know, it’s a major part of shonen manga, blah blah blah… but… there are much better, and more memorable aspects to these stories that could have been included.

The placement of these images is also a bit creepy to me. The majority of the more “tantalizing” illustrations are on the first page to a section, next to the introductory paragraph where you’ll spend the most time. There are of course exceptions.

I’m not offended by sexual content. But I don’t like the subtle leaning towards the so-called “male-gaze” that I feel all over this curation. I feel too much of the author’s “interest” in manga in this curation and in his writing. As an encyclopedic work this should have been more neutral.

Some of the illustrations are appropriate as a representation of an artist’s work. In my opinion, both the illustrations for Ken Akamatsu and Moyocco Anno fit fairly well.

And there were a few surprises. Shintaro Kago, for example, doesn’t really have any example art in this book that I would consider overly-sexual. I can’t read the Japanese, so can’t be sure about the content. But, for someone known for his EroGuro (grotesque erotica), and who often sells as pornography, there is only one small image of a naked woman being pulled apart by school children using her legs as rope in a tug-of-war. But that’s it. And that very much is indicative of his art.

Gengoroh Tagame who is a notable gay-manga (bara) artist has some of his non-censored work included in this book. These types of scenes are fine to include as a representation of his work, but they also make me nervous. This book doesn’t have any external clues that it’s intended for adults only. The least that could have been done is a rating on the back, like any respectable English-language manga would get.

[Also, before you congratulate this book on its inclusivity, just note that Tagame was only included in this book because he’s recently gotten popular outside of the gay-manga genre. The same is true for the inclusion of Fumi Yoshinaga. There aren’t any strictly yaoi, yuri, or gay-manga artists in this book.]

 

Conclusion:

This reads like a self-published mess. But, the art is nice, and the price tag of $10 for about 500 pages of glossy art seems relatively reasonable as someone who likes to do paper crafts. I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t meet my scissors in some mad crafting afternoon sometime.

 

Game:

Do you see what I see? Find the glaring omission. [hint: the original edition was published in 2004. This “revised” edition was published in 2017.]

obata scan update

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Non-Fiction Review: Writing About Art by Henry M. Sayre

Writing About ArtWriting About Art

by Henry M. Sayre

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As this was intended for beginner students of art history, I can’t say this was exactly for me. I’ve been wanting a refresher on how to approach art, think about, and examine art. Though this did give some hints in that area, it was more focussed on the essay writing process… and I would say not so much for the serious student of art history, but more for the student of art appreciation. I would never have gotten away with the ephemeral approach of writing an essay purely on observation and feelings. If you’re a new student take this guide with a grain of salt. Every professor you have will expect a different approach to art writing, down to the fine points of how to make references. It’s almost always better to start by asking your professors what their expectations are.

Non-Fiction Review: Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget ItFluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It

by Gabriel Wyner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to rate something like this without seeing if it works first. But, I do think that the author is at least giving you a very practical approach to self-language study… and he certainly doesn’t sugar-coat how much work it’s going to be. I’ve been stuck in my Japanese language study for a while — I think Gabriel Wyner’s approach might be the answer to get me out of this rut.

Also, I would highly recommend the audiobook of this to listen to while you read the book. He seriously has one of the prettiest narration voices. Plus, with so much discussion about foreign words and pronunciation, it is such a bonus to actually hear (rather than read and guess wrong) the words properly spoken. And, with how much he repeats his example words, my vocabulary is now 5-6 words larger.

Non-Fiction Review: The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown

The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think DifferentlyThe Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently

by Sunni Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you are already a doodler or drawer, or just aren’t intimidated by creative thinking, this book is not for you. Now, if you haven’t picked up a pencil since you were 6 years old, you might find some value here. But, I would still recommend that you supplement your “doodling vocabulary” with some basic clip-art or how-to-doodle books.

This is a basic class to get the most visually clueless to re-discover their pre-existing visual language. Or, more importantly what situations you can use your newly re-discovered visual language.

I’m a born doodler. I don’t need to be convinced to doodle… What I want is to know how to use my doodles more effectively. I borrowed this book to get tips on incorporating more visual elements into my university notes. Not to get a lecture (that I also give on a frequent basis) that everyone can doodle. In a way “preaching to the choir”, but also I disagreed with almost ALL of her arguments. That makes for an aggravating read.

I guess this book wasn’t for me. I did end up skimming most of it. Text-wise was a bit too casual for my liking. For example, am I supposed to understand the phrase,”crazy-ass importance”? What does that even mean? Why should my ass’ temperament determine the value of something?

In comparison, the text used in the info graphics (really just flow charts) was incredibly dry. Wouldn’t you have thought it would be the reverse. Use the casual text with pictures and the complex text without?

If you never draw. Believe you can’t draw. And work in a business that holds frequent team brainstorming sessions, this might be for you. The rest of us would be wise to look elsewhere.

Non-Fiction Review: Pop Manga Coloring Book / Camilla d’Errico

Pop Manga Coloring Book: A Surreal Journey Through a Cute, Curious, Bizarre, and Beautiful WorldPop Manga Coloring Book: A Surreal Journey Through a Cute, Curious, Bizarre, and Beautiful World

by Camilla d’Errico

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would say that I would be interested in colouring about 75% of the pictures in this colouring book. Some of the images are so stunning. The children are so beautiful or cute, and the merging with animals is often so intriguing. Most pages include a highly detailed and somewhat surreal image of a young child placed in the center of the page with large white space as the background.

There are some unfortunate illustrations that were obviously copied from pencil drawings, or draft sketches. These are either not well realized as images, or just plain difficult to colour without the ability to erase line. The only way to move past this would be to use non-conventional colouring materials like acrylic paints. Whereas coloured pencils and crayon would be the preferred materials.

Camilla d’Errico’s style is more loose and sketchy, and for some images you can tell she’s tried to use the full space by adding backgrounds. Either strawberries, or geometric shapes. These are incredibly unfortunate as the art style or materials used are in competition of what she usually does. It is nice to have something in the background to colour, but d’Errico’s style is not one to fill the page. It would have been better to just do what she does rather than try to make it more “colouring-book”-like.

But, despite the problem with her backgrounds, and some poor choices, I would still say about 75% of the book is beautiful and I would be thrilled to spend time colouring in it. In an age when “adult” colouring books are all the rage, it’s nice to see something that fits somewhere between colouring for kids and the train-wreck that is most of adult colouring books who are trying to cash in on the craze.

This would be a great title for teens, or fans of Camilla d’Errico’s comic book series.

I received a digital copy from NetGalley for an honest review.

Non-Fiction Review: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of EverythingIs That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything

by David Bellos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

He starts off the book by defining translation, the other solutions to dealing with language barriers, and whether translation actually exists (just because we’ve given it a name). Brilliant! It reminded me of my “Modern Art” history class at university — I put it off for several years because I took the stance that everything has been done before — it’s just a rehash. and what were the first words out of my prof’s mouth? “I’m going to take this semester to explain to you that Modern Art Does Not Exist!” YES! I know there were at least a few students who were NOT happy with this remark. For me, that was the best modern art class I ever could have hoped for!

Anyways, I don’t have much to say about this book — except that I’ll probably buy it and read it again. I kept wading through the text and was excited by so many passages. I kept thinking to myself, “I need to write this quote down…” This doesn’t happen that often to me with non-fiction works. I can’t explain it. All I can say is, I’d love to read some fictional works translated by David Bellos, his explanation of the how’s and what’s of translation were fascinating.

Non-Fiction Review: A Brief History of Manga by Helen McCarthy

A Brief History of MangaA Brief History of Manga

by Helen McCarthy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just picked up a copy of Helen McCarthy’s “A Brief History of Manga” from the library. My impression is that it is 1. totally adorable, 2. visually engaging, and 3. fun fact filled. I also let my sister paruse through it, and she agrees with me. We’re both excited about this mini history.

Because like it’s title, it is exactly what it delivers:

1. It’s Brief. Very Brief!

Each page contains several colour images, an interesting fact, a couple paragraphs on historical trends, and a timeline — and all in less than 100 pages, in a book about the size of an actual manga. Really, you couldn’t have printed a history any smaller.

Actually I love the small package and think it would look adorable on my shelves next to my manga. [now, if only I could find some room…]

2. It’s about manga history.

It is concise, pointed, interesting. The history provides breadth, spanning from the 700s to present day (and the future). And, she really focuses her discussion to manga. Not anime. Which I of course, appreciate.

Did she leave stuff out? Umm… That’s kind of an understatement! But, I learned a few things about manga that I’d never known before (namely some of the early Western influences) and am now very interested in exploring further.

My only problem is that the only action I can take is heading off into “lala land” (aka the library stacks) when I should be studying for exams.

I will be adding a copy to my personal collection. You’d be quite remiss if you didn’t do the same!

Non-Fiction Review: Hello Kitty Collaborations by Sanrio

Hello Kitty CollaborationsHello Kitty Collaborations

by Sanrio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Collaborations with leading artists, designers and brands of the “Hello Kitty” brand motif in high art and low culture. A gorgeous Rizzoli art book (as if they knew how to make anything but gorgeous art books) celebrating one of my favourite motifs. This book is really a combination of my 2 favourite things: Fine arts & Japanese pop culture! How could I not love it? Also, the fabrics on pp 108-13 are AMAZING!

Non-Fiction Review: Manga Pro Superstars by Colleen Doran

Manga Pro Superstar Workshop: How to Create and Sell Comics and Graphic NovelsManga Pro Superstar Workshop: How to Create and Sell Comics and Graphic Novels

by Colleen Doran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably the best “how to draw manga” book I’ve seen in English. The art tips are practical rather than just “copy what you see” and there is insight into the “Japanese” process which isn’t often touched on in other titles, including the use of proper equipment. Good title.