Last week I was contacted by Robert McGuire, editor-in-chief of GEN Manga Entertainment about their new indie manga anthology. He offered me a chance to read it both digitally and in print, which I happily accepted. (I don’t get review copies that often, you see.)
Having just received a copy of the printed edition, it seems like the perfect time to post this.
GEN is a short seinen anthology with four stories from different indie manga artists. The stories range from boxing to aliens to the supernatural. So far I’ve read two volumes of the anthology online as well as the print version of the first volume.
First up is Wolf by Nakamura Shige, which starts with a young man named Shota taking a train to make his fortune in Tokyo as a sumo wrestler. But the story isn’t about the soon-to-be sumo wrestler, but the man he sits next to on the train, Naoto. Naoto tries to ignore the earnest Shota, but after some small talk, he readily admits he’s going to Tokyo to kill a man. After an altercation on the train, Naoto is forced to stay at Shota’s stable for a night. Instead, he sneaks off and finds the man he’s about to kill. This man happens to be his father, a retired star boxer at a gym. Naoto immediately tries to go in for the kill and punches his dad straight in the face, but isn’t able to touch him after the two enter the ring. Defeated, but not willing to give up yet, Naoto stays at the gym where his father also lives and trains to one day defeat him.
Next is VS Aliens by Suzuki Yu. A boy named Kitaro is surprised when a classmate he’s never spoken to pulls him over, informs him that she’s seen an alien in the class next door and asks him to do something about it. Aya is adamant that Sana, one of the prettiest girls in the school, is an alien. Kitaro and Aya confront Sana, who handles it reasonably. The twist begins comes when Sana goes home and tells her mother, who freaks out and leaves the next day, causing poor Sana to think she might be an alien after all. Determined to help Sana, Aya and Kitaro help her run away from the unknown threat to her life.
The third manga in the anthology is Kamen by Mihara Gunya. It starts out, unsurprisingly, with a guy in a mask. The mask speaks to him and warns him not to remove it or else they’ll both die. Then we meet a group of imprisoned refugees being carted off by a group of soldiers. For no apparent reason, the guy in the mask attacks the soldiers and is promptly scolded by his sentient mask for trying to get them killed. The man is handcuffed and everyone heads to the soldiers’ final destination. Once there, the refugees learn that their imprisonment is a rather kind one, where they get two meals a day, no one is executed and they only do light repair work. It could be worse. But at the same time, the leader of the soldiers, Simba, meets with her uncle who seems interested in toppling the young noble from her seat of power.
Finally, Souls by Karina Arisa is the story between a troubled daughter and her strict mother. One day, as it begins to rain, the daughter lets in a stranger and angers her mother. While the mother tries to send Harue off to her dance lesson and the mysterious female stranger off on her way, the stranger tries to explore and exorcise the dark secrets of the family.
In future volumes, starting I don’t know when, there will be a new story called AKA by Abe Yousuke. Here’s the description from the site:
It was discovered long ago by an ancient people that the struggle to survive and the death that results from this struggle creates energy. After centuries, a way to harness and use this force has been found. The secret to this energy, produced from the deaths of countless living things, holds limitless power and so was to be guarded and kept hidden. But now that secret had been given to only one special child. This is his story.
GEN bills itself as indie manga from the Tokyo underground, but I feel like that’s a little bit of a misnomer. There’s nothing I associate with underground manga in GEN. The art is all solid and fairly mainstream. Many of the plots are also something you wouldn’t be surprised to see in mainstream manga. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I think underground, I think of Garo and AX. Because of this, I expected something more nitty gritty than the current stories in GEN. That isn’t to say the manga are bad, but that I expected something darker and more subversive than what’s actually there. I’m actually OK with the fact that GEN isn’t AX, which I found to be a mixed bag of interesting and disgusting.
My favorite stories are VS Aliens and Kamen, both of which have the greatest possibility of heading into exciting dramatic territory. With VS Aliens, it feels like there’s a good capacity for suspenseful scifi story, which is possible even with the cutesy, K-ON! style art. (Anyone ever watch Noein?) Kamen has lots of potential for political drama and samurai action, although I’m note entirely sure if falls under the category of samurai manga. The female leader Simba, who immediately stands up for her choice of lifestyle, totally won me over in that very same moment. Wolf isn’t my favorite, but I do want to continue to read it. I haven’t gotten the chance to read much boxing manga, so I’m hoping Wolf doesn’t fall into a strict repetitive formula. Unfortunately, Souls does nothing for me. The art is lumpy and the story awkward to the point that when the plot tries to explain itself, it doesn’t help the reader understand much at all.
There are three things I wish GEN had more or less of. First up, I wish GEN had included some extra material in the magazine, especially since the print anthology is half the size as a regular manga, but priced the same. (The digital version is a nice $2.99) While GEN does sport a nice smooth, matte cover which I rather like, it doesn’t seem like the paper quality is spectacular. So if I was actually paying $9.95 for the print edition, I would want something extra. A foreword explaining GEN’s take on manga, bios about the creators featured in the magazine, an interview with one of the creators or anything else GEN could think of. It would just be a nice touch for a reader’s money, especially since they already seem to be doing short essays that could turn into extra anthology content on their tumblr.
Second, I wish there were fewer spelling and grammar errors. I received my review copy of volume 1 with a note explaining that the text had been corrected after the advanced reader copies were printed, but I still found plenty of typos and misspellings in the digital version that’s free to download on GEN’s website. The digital copy of volume 2 that I read had plenty of grammatical problems too. I know this is a personal bias, but I think it’s extremely important that GEN improves its editing procedures. The credits page does not say how many editors work on the anthology, but my suggestion is to get a devoted copy-editor who might be able to help out with manga adaptation too as the dialogue reads a little stiff here and there. I also felt a little put off by the way the sound effects are awkwardly subtitled as “SFX: THUMP”, but there isn’t exactly an industry standard for dealing with sound effects. It might not even bother most people, it just takes me out of the manga more than I’d like.
Third, I wish all the stories in GEN didn’t remind me of other anime and manga I have seen or read. I cannot pinpoint what reminds of Wolf, but I do get the occasional whiff of Rumiko Takahashi’s One Pound Gospel from it. VS Aliens reminds me of a cross between The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Noein with, as I said earlier, the art from K-ON! The art in Kamen seems akin to the art in Blade of the Immortal and the story of a mysterious man suddenly at the center of political schemes and violence in a feudal society feels pretty familiar too. Souls might as well be Ayakashi or Hell Girl with different characters. Thus it is my fervent hope that future chapters of these manga begin to feel more original to me. The possibility is there for each of them, so it really depends on the creators. (Who probably don’t have editors to bounce ideas and plot points off of, which is the double-edged sword of freedom of working in indie manga. Editors, in this sense, are meant to help the creators make a more coherent story.)
In the end, these are all perfectly normal issues for a fledgling manga publisher and easily fixable. Even manga published by Tokyopop or Viz had stylistic or grammatical problems when they first started. Yen Press totally does things that annoy me with sound effects. Thus, I don’t think it’s any reason to dismiss GEN and not read it. Although I am concerned about the originality of the stories in the anthology, I fully expect them to even out and have the creators really come into their element, as most mangaka do improve drastically the more they work on manga.
I want to keep an eye on GEN as I feel like the anthology has a great potential to grow and I really enjoy most of the stories so far. It seems like the sort of thing that will remain underground on the U.S. scene, although it seems like GEN’s staff might prefer it that way, but I hope they achieve commercial success none the less. It would be great to get an entirely different style of making manga published regularly in North America, where the publishers’ focus usually lays only with manga that’s already popular.
If you are interested in GEN, you can get a discount on the digital download of the second volume and Manga Maniac Cafe interviewed Gen’s editor-in-chief Robert McGuire in case you are interesting in learning more about GEN’s unique take on manga publishing. I’ve included their press release below in case you’re interested in the details.
GEN Manga Entertainment, Inc. Announces the Release of GEN
GEN will be available nationwide June, 2011
NEW YORK, NY – GEN Manga Entertainment, Inc. announces the upcoming release of GEN. GEN 1 (ISBN: 978-0-9836134-0-4, Trade Paper, 136 pages, black and white, $9.95, Category: Graphic Fiction) will be available where fine books are sold June, 2011.
GEN 1 is presently available in digital format for FREE on the official website (www.genmanga.com).
Indie manga from the Tokyo Underground released in North America, GEN, marks a shift in manga publishing strategy. This original work of graphic fiction boldly challenges the industry while breaking new ground. It presents what manga readers are hungry for, the release of fresh underground work from Japan. GEN marks the release of a new serial publication that will continue to introduce a variety of new underground stories to readers as it progresses.
GEN stories are published no where else in the world. They come straight from the artists in Japan to readers in America. GEN presents this rough yet vibrant work as “seinen” the next step up from “shonen” for the maturing manga reader.
Four hard-lined, unpolished stories are presented in the first of GEN. Wolf is the emotional story of a young man that heads to the city to avenge his childhood abandonment. VS Aliens is the story of an average student duped (or not?) into going on a wild alien chase. A mysterious masked stranger in KAMEN holds secrets to hidden powers to protect innocents from massacre. And a young woman explores her psyche in the metaphysical journey of Souls.
GEN puts on no airs about how grand their authors are. In fact, they readily admit that their authors are underground. GEN is manga the way it should be without the flash, for the fans, raw and fresh.
Presenting new indie manga circles from Japan, GEN, a monthly publication, will be released in the US in June. Digital format for GEN is available on genmanga.com. Based in New York, GEN Manga Entertainment (www.genmanga.com) endeavors to publish new and unseen graphic work from Japan, being in the unique position to bring readers work first, more original and untamed manga will be sure to come!
For more information, please contact Robert McGuire by phone – (646) 535-0090, or by email – firstname.lastname@example.org