Manga, or Japanese comics, has been around in the United States in various forms since the early 80s. Dark Horse and Viz Media inundated the market with a proliferation of series published first as single issues, and later collected in oversized $15 volumes. Soon, monthly anthologies, like Manga Vizion and Super Manga Blast gained popularity. However, the mainstream market didn’t hear much about manga until Shonen Jump, the American version of the wildly popular Japanese anthology, hit the shelves. Naruto, which was serialized starting in the second issue, became a smash hit. As a result, manga started to gain widespread attention.
Here’s a tribute to life before Naruto. Life before Inuyasha. Welcome to the Vintage Manga Corner.
Age Rating: All Ages
A fashionable high school girl has a crush on the lead singer of a heavy metal band, but he seems indifferent to her feelings. After attending a concert, she meets the lead singer’s handsome friend who falls in love with her. It’s too bad she doesn’t feel the spark for him…
Tomoko Taniguchi was the queen of saccharine sweet shojo, or girls’ comics. She wrote several short series, of varying length and quality. Miss Me? is an example of one of her self-contained stories that, while a bit flawed, is cute and kitschy. Emyu is a high school fashionista who falls for the sleepy-headed lead singer of a “heavy metal” band, Shinkichi. At the same time, Yasu, a shaggy-haired, lighthearted metal-head, slowly comes to the realization that he has feelings for the vibrant Emyu. How will this love triangle turn out?
One of Taniguchi’s strengths is crafting strong character designs that are so adorable that you want to pull them off the page and give them a huge hug. For example, Shinkichi gets so worn out from rocking out every night that he sleeps in class every day. He’s so zonked that Emyu can sneak up to him, slap stickers on his face, and sprint off before he wakes up. Even though the girls tease him about it, he finds more stickers and puts them on his face for his next concert. Other memorable characters include Yasu, whose long hair and taste in music don’t mesh very well with his exuberant personality, and whose crush on Emyu begins to consume his life.
The hallmark of shojo is screentones. Illustrators pepper manga with them to the point where you can barely read the work. Miss Me suffers somewhat from this near-overdose, but manages to incorporate it into the work so it seems cutesy and sweet instead of mind-numbing and boring. The art in general as well suits the overall tone. It’s light-hearted, wispy, and simplified. The persons themselves are long-legged, crazy-haired, typical shojo boys and girls, but with a bit of a Taniguchi twist.
One thing you have to take into consideration is that this book was written for young readers, I’d guess around the age of 9 or 10. It’s not meant to convey any deep messages, other than to follow your heart and chase your dreams. It’s a cute one-volume romp that you can enjoy on a rainy afternoon.
Cyborg 009 Volume 1
Age Rating: 13+
The Nuclear Age has brought with it the arms race, which has led to the advent of weapons powerful enough to destroy the planet several times over. Unwilling to take the plunge into Armageddon, the world powers, in league with a group known only as the Black Ghost, have developed super soldiers known as the Cyborgs, designed to fight the wars of the world…but out in space. Unfortunately, the Black Ghost didn’t ask the Cyborgs how they felt about their role in this new world order.
Shotaro Ishinomori is one of those manga authors that rank with Osamu Tezuka, and this is his magnum opus. Even from just the first volume of this series, you can tell that it was destined to be a legend. It melds American movie references, Cold War undertones, and amazingly well-engineered cyber-technology with an action-packed plot and a memorable cast of characters to create a masterpiece.
The first volume starts off with a series of kidnappings. From America to Africa to Japan, people are simply plucked out of their homes and brought to a top-secret facility. There, they are operated on and turned into living weapons, called Cyborgs, and given a number from 001 to 009. All are equipped with different powers, except for 009, who can utilize all of them in a limited capacity. For example, 002 can run and fly at a speed of up to Mach 5, and 008 can breathe under water. They are all exaggerated stereotypes of the place where they were raised (the Native American is a stoic, warrior type, etc.), which could raise some eyebrows about the appropriateness of this work for young teens. However, the character designs actually achieve a greater purpose—the Cyborgs are cast-offs and rejects of the general populace, but they can defy the mold in which they were formed. They supersede race, gender, and ethnicity, to represent the true heart of the human race.
The only way to describe the art is this: prototypical shonen at its very finest. The action scenes are jam-packed with robotic dolphins, gigantic cybernetic reptiles, and huge automatons of all sorts. The Cyborgs themselves are so well-designed that they can be told apart and identified at a glance, even though they’re only referred to by number. From 001, who’s only a baby, but has the intellectual capabilities of someone much older, to 009, the half-Japanese powerhouse of the team, everyone shines in their own way.
Today, all we hear about are series like Naruto, Bleach, or Inuyasha. We never hear about the old classics like Astro Boy, Phoenix, or Cyborg 009. I remember watching the television show adaptation of Cyborg 009 when I was just a little kid, and thinking how amazingly cool it was. Now that I’ve “re-discovered” the series in my “later” years, I realize that it’s just as “cool” as I had left it. It has an almost childlike and innocent appeal about it, which is (of course) masked by an overload of action and explosions. What more can you ask for?