Complex Age #1 Review

Complex Age volume 1
Despite being someone who doesn’t cosplay at all, it’s a hobby that I have a lot of respect for. All of the time, effort and money that people pour into making these costumes in order to become their favourite characters is certainly interesting to me, but not a lot of media seems to tell stories about cosplayers (that I’ve personally seen, anyway). So, perhaps to right that problem, we have
Complex Age by Yui Sakuma, which gives a realistic and down to earth look at what it means to balance being a cosplayer and an ordinary adult life.

Our story revolves around Nagisa Kataura, a 26 year old office worker who loves cosplaying in her spare time but chooses to keep it secret from her parents and coworkers. The synopsis on the back of the book implies that the story is about Nagisa deciding “what’s more important to her, cosplay or being ‘normal’?”, but that isn’t really correct for the first volume. The first five chapters of the volume (there are six chapters in total) focus on Nagisa dealing with her low self-esteem after meeting someone who can cosplay her favourite character far better than she can.

Nagisa loves cosplaying as Ururu from the fictional Magical Riding Hood Ururu anime series, which is supposedly a massive hit with females. She is a bit of a expert when it comes to all things cosplay and can sew up her costumes extremely quickly, never even dreaming of compromising on quality, but unfortunately this leaves her with a somewhat judgemental personality towards the hobby – especially when she sees other fans dressed as Ururu at conventions. When Nagisa makes a snide comment at some fellow Magical Riding Hood Ururu fans about how cosplay isn’t just a game and then walks away from a group photo opportunity, Nagisa’s friend Kimiko gets frustrated and orders Nagisa to create a costume for someone else as means of forgiveness for her rude behavior. When Nagisa is later properly introduced to the person she’s been working on the costume for, Aya, Nagisa begins to understand that cosplaying isn’t just about being able to copy the character perfectly.

In the final chapter of the volume Aya, who has become good friends with Nagisa and Kimiko, asks why Nagisa keeps her cosplaying a secret from her family and workmates. It’s here that the story feels like it’s finally coming into what it should have been from the start, but it’s cut short by the end of the volume. Now I feel like I’ve been left hanging for the next installment. That’s not to say the arc we started with was a bad one, because it wasn’t and I really enjoyed it, but it’s obviously not as important as what’s to come next and that’s a shame.

Story aside, what’s on show in this first volume is well done. Mangaka Yui Sakuma captures the feeling of conventions, cosplayers, and the general mindset of those who like anime and manga very well (with a nice amount of comedy slipped in). Nagisa and her friends are genuinely nice characters and very relatable, especially in one scene where Nagisa is working out if she can afford to attend to an event and is subtracting the costs of the new anime boxset she wants, costume materials, and the general cost of living. This is not a cheap hobby to have and I definitely fall into the pitfall of being distracted by shiny collector’s editions like poor Nagisa! I feel that Sakuma has worked hard at the little things to create a series that could be rather special.

This volume of Complex Age opens with some colour pages which quickly warm you to the art. Sakuma has gone for a pastel inspired style that looks really nice in colour, and throughout the book the artwork continues to captivate. The shading has been handled extremely well and adds a lot of detail to every panel. The end of the book is filled with designs and info for characters from Magical Riding Hood Ururu, which brings the series to life and helps connect us with the show that Nagisa loves so deeply.

Publisher Kodansha Comics have done a wonderful job with the release, which is bigger than your average volume of manga in both width and height. The extra space helps to emphasize the artwork. My best comparison for its size, that I own, is Viz Media’s release of the Tokyo Ghoul manga, which looks to be the same when I held them together. The Wolf Children manga from Yen Press matches up pretty closely as well. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with cosplay and the many different terms associated with it, Kodansha have put together a “Cospedia” in the back of the book alongside their usual translation notes. Between the Cospedia and the translation notes I never found myself lost with the many new terms, so hats off to Kodansha for a job well done there. This volume of Complex Age also comes with the original one-shot for the series which tells a similar (but very different) story to what we now have, so it’s well worth a read.

Overall I’ve come away from Complex Age rather impressed. The story has been well thought out and approached respectfully, and the artwork is simply wonderful to look over. Cosplay is a subject that generally isn’t covered that well, at least not as a main subject matter, so it’ll be interesting to see where the story is taken from here. My only issue is that the story we’re led to believe we’re getting doesn’t even begin until the end of the volume. That said, I’m more than happy to stick around for what’s to come and I’m willing to bet almost everyone else will be too. Highly recommended!

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information:
Title: Complex Age
Original vintage: 2014
Mangaka: Yui Sakuma
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Drama, Slice of Life, Seinen
Length (page count): 208

Platinum End Chapter 9 Review

Platinum End

Ian Wolf’s review

Platinum End © 2015 by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata. SHUEISHA Inc.

“There’s an ‘A’ bomb in Wardour Street. They’ve called in the army, they’ve called in the police too.” – The Jam

The ninth chapter of Platinum End sees hero Mirai continue to worry about whether or not he should attempt to kill someone.

It begins with serial killer Misurin, under the influence of Metropoliman’s red arrow, dumping her latest victim on the top of a large tower. She attracts the attention of the media and the local police, but she is able to deal with them with her own red arrows. Nanato and Mirai finally decide it is time to act and stop them.

In order to do this, Nanato has used his background working for an apparel company to get both himself and Mirai outfits to do the job. Nanato has a gigantic suit that was designed for the defence force, while Mirai has a rather fashionable suit that was designed to be used in motorsports, complete with a facemask with which to disguise himself. They then fly off to the tower with Mirai still unsure about using his lethal white arrows to kill Metropoliman, secretly preferring to use his red arrows instead. When they get to the tower, Nanato confronts Misurin, but she has something prepared for him: a bomb.

This chapter appears to be mainly setup for what appears to be a big battle between Mirai and Metropoliman. There is plenty of action, but this is just the build-up for something much bigger.

Therefore it seems that the main reveal for this chapter is the new costume that Mirai is given. His all-in-one suit made out of a special material, complete with hood and mask, gives Mirai a kind of cyberpunk look to him.

Score: 7 / 10

Title: Platinum End
Original vintage: 2015
Mangaka: Tsugumi Ohba (story) Takeshi Obata (art)
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Supernatural
Age rating: 18+
Length (page count): 68

Haikyu!! Volume 1 Review

Haikyu!! Volume 1Since being given the chance to review the first half of the Haikyu!! Season 1 anime, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the original manga by Viz Media. As I mentioned back when I reviewed the anime, I am not much of a sports person but there is something special about this series that keeps me captivated. I wanted to find out if the manga would have the same hold on me and I’m happy to say that it does.

Haikyu!! is a Shonen Jump series that follows the story of Shoyo Hinata, who, inspired by a legendary player know as ‘the Little Giant’, wishes to become the best volleyball player ever. His major problem is the fact that he’s fairly short, but with determination and some amazing jumping abilities he’s hoping to overcome the wall before him. For most of his time in junior high, Hinata is the only member of the school’s male volleyball club, but after convincing some of his friends to join him, Hinata gets to take part in a tournament for his final year. In the first match Hinata’s team is put against the favourites to win and there he meets Tobio Kageyama, a king of the court with amazing reflex abilities but an inability to work well with his teammates. After Hinata’s team is beaten solidly by Kageyama’s, our young protagonist vows to someday surpass Kageyama and defeat him in their next game.

Hinata then starts the first year at Karasuno High, the school where his idol, the Little Giant, played volleyball. However, when Hinata goes to join the club he runs into Kageyama, who is also attending the school, and discovers that the two must now work together on the same team! Will the former rivals be able to put aside their differences and work together for the good of the Karasuno team?

The answer to this question, at least for as far as we get in Volume 1, is definitely not. Hinata and Kageyama are told by their three senior club members (Daichi Sawamura, Koshi Sugaware and Ryunosuke Tanaka), that they must prove that they can work as a team before they’re allowed to set foot on the court. Not only do they have to show real teamwork, they’ll also be playing in a match against two other newcomers to the club. If they lose, Kageyama will never be allowed to play his favourite role as a setter in the sport.

This first volume is home to seven chapters and doesn’t reach the conclusion of the decisive match of the Karasuno first years. It does, however, firmly set in place the relationship between Hinata and Kageyama. The two are rivals in every sense of the word but they also have a lot in common. Even within just seven chapters they begin to change one another for the better. It’s actually quite impressive to see how much the characters grow in such a short space of time, and Haruichi Furudate proves a very good mangaka in the way their development is handled.

Of course you can’t have a Shonen Jump title without a healthy dose of action scenes, which Furudate also delivers on. Haikyu!! is packed full of incredibly well drawn action scenes, such as when Hinata is playing his match in junior high and even when he’s simply just practising with Kageyama. The characters feel truly alive, just as if – although you’re looking at static drawings – you’re actually watching them run around the court. Every scene has been well thought out in the effort to keep the reader truly immersed in this world – and it works beautifully.

Production I.G have been working on the anime adaption and I originally thought that some of the stylistic choices were down to them, but that simply isn’t quite true. The studio are doing a wonderful job with the anime but Haikyu!! is just as special in its original form as a manga. The comedy, action and overall brilliance is all at the roots. That said, I definitely miss the wonderful anime soundtrack and while reading this volume of the manga I had the first opening and ending themes looping in my head! The anime also delivers slightly better with the comedy, but the manga’s efforts are by no means bad. More than anything I just need to spend more time with it.

My only other thought regarding the first volume of the manga vs the anime is that the anime gives us more time with Daichi, Koshi and Ryunosuke early on so you get to know them faster. In the first volume of Haikyu!! we’re introduced to them but they’re quite heavily pushed aside in favour of development for Hinata and Kageyama. I’m sure the second volume will solve this issue but for now I’m a little disappointed as I really like those characters and wanted to see more of them this volume.

It’s worth noting that you don’t have to know anything about volleyball to enjoy Haikyu!!. The sport is fairly easy to pick up but the series is also good at explaining the more complex elements as they come around. It’s never enough of an information dump to be intimidating and more little bits of info here and there to slowly build your knowledge (and not be bothersome if you already know plenty about the sport!). Too many series fall into the pitfall of overloading the reader with expositions but I’m really pleased that Haikyu!! strikes the balance nicely – something I also praised the anime for.

Having watched the anime and now reading the manga, I can see why Haikyu!! is so popular in Japan and why it has such passionate fans. The characters have boundless energy and thus so does the person experiencing the story, whether it be thanks to the manga or the anime. I think the anime is probably the better entry point to the series but the manga is still a solid read.

With Viz Media aiming to release a volume of the manga every month (at least until January 2017 judging by the release dates we currently have), I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with Haikyu!!. I cannot recommend this series highly enough for shonen fans as it’s just great fun with some wonderful artwork and a strong cast of characters. Like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and other Shonen Jump titles, Haikyu!! truly belongs in everyone’s manga collection.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information
Title: Haikyu!!
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Haruichi Furudate
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 190

Orange: The Complete Collection #2 Review

Orange Collection 2Back in May I was busy singing the praises of Orange as the manga series had just seen the release of Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 1. I’m here again to review the second volume and tell everyone about this wonderful series. This second complete collection of Orange contains the final two and a half volumes of the original Japanese releases collected into a massive 384 page omnibus.

As a general note this review contains spoilers for the first complete collection, so if you haven’t already read it then stop reading now!

When we left Naho in Volume 1 she was struggling with how to best help Kakeru. Despite following the advice of the letters from the future, Naho couldn’t always prevent Kakeru from being hurt or feeling lonely. However, at the start of the second volume our young protagonist has discovered that the rest of her close friends have also received letters from the future and are doing their best to support Naho in helping Kakeru. By working together can the group encourage Kakeru to open up to them and prevent him from committing suicide?

The first major story arc kicks off by covering the school sport festival. In the original timeline this was a notable event for Kakeru as he began feeling even more depressed due to the fact none of his family (especially his deceased mother) could be at the sport’s festival, while other students had their families present. Coupled with the fact that he lost the relay race for his class, it’s easy to see how this festival was a defining moment in Kakeru’s mental health and potential future. In the current timeline, Suwa helps out Naho by making sure that Kakeru’s grandmother can attend the event, which lifts Kakeru’s spirits a great deal. To try and avoid losing the relay, the friends also work hard training together and pass along an inspiring message to Kakeru when they finally run together.

For a moment it appears that things are actually starting to look up. However, it’s soon revealed that life for Kakeru truly isn’t improving. Despite their best efforts, and him and Naho beginning to grow closer romantically, Kakeru still starts to distance himself from his friends.

This is the point where I’ll no longer discuss the plot because knowing more would definitely impact your pleasure when reading the series for yourself. Instead I’d rather talk about how impressed I am with mangaka Ichigo Takano’s work with the story and characters. I said this in my previous review and it rings true here, too: that how the characters deal with Kakeru and their own feelings is very realistic and down-to-earth. Naho is tangled up in her feelings for Kakeru and her fear of not being able to save him – so much so that she doesn’t always make the right choices or say what she truly wants to say. Likewise, we have Suwa, who has feelings for Naho but knows he should push her together with Kakeru despite this.

Hagita, Azusa, and Chino, who were somewhat glossed over in the previous volume, finally come into their own in this collection. As the series starts to draw to a close and Naho learns that everyone in the group has been getting letters from the future, which gives Hagita and co. the chance to really shine. Now that they have more reason to be involved, and aren’t just helping on the sidelines, their personalities really come through to the reader. They’re still not quite ‘main characters’, yet I feel as though I know all of their feelings perfectly. It’s further proof of how well written our cast is.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the artwork. Takano has continued to do a brilliant job by creating very moving scenes through what appears to be quite basic art. Apart from the faces of the characters, panels are often fairly empty, but since Takano draws people so well, this doesn’t matter. If anything, the artistic focus on the cast compared to the backgrounds just heightens the emotions that Takano is trying to convey. Naho and friends look cute and a little rough around the edges at a distance but this also makes them feel more alive. All along, apart from the time travel aspect, Takano has worked hard to build a realistic story and the artwork further illustrates this point.

Generally speaking, I am also impressed by the work publisher Seven Seas have put into the release. The book opens with some wonderful colour pages which showcase the cast in the future and past. Not only that, this release also homes another of Takano’s work – Haruiro Astronaut. Rather than being a brief one-shot, Haruiro Astronaut is about a volume’s worth of content. It’s a love story about a pair of twins and a rather handsome boy. The plot is a simple affair when compared to Orange but still nice to see brought out in English. My only criticism is that perhaps Seven Seas should have published Haruiro Astronaut as a separate release instead of including it with Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 2. Doing such means that the book is so big I left a crease in the spine (right where Haruiro Astronaut begins) and fear it could be a potential weak point for tearing on future reads. It’s not a major complaint but I am a little disappointed when this is an otherwise flawless release and, being one of my favourite series now, I hope that the book will stand up to future wear and tear.

Even on this second read-through, Orange has continued to tug at the heartstrings and be a wonderful experience. The story is simply splendid and I’m sure that I’ll continue recommending it to friends and family for years to come. With an anime in the works, I’m hoping that Orange continues to be popular. Perhaps the anime can even be a gateway for newcomers to manga, who are looking for an insightful view into the minds of those with depression and the friends around said person. One thing is for sure, I’ll certainly be reading Orange again and again as, for me, it’s a true masterpiece.

Score: 10/10

Manga Quick Information

Title: Orange
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Ichigo Takano
Published by: Seven Seas
Genre: Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Sci-fi
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 384

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts #1 Review

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts vol 1 coverThe mangaka team Maybe first came to my attention thanks to Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Crunchyroll streamed the anime adaptation back in 2012, and since watching Dusk Maiden, I’ve kept an eye on the team behind the manga. They’ve since been working on two currently running series called Tales of Wedding Rings (a manga that Crunchyroll simulpub) and To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, which is being published by Vertical Comics. I’m here to review the latter.

Sacred Beasts follows the story of Nancy Schaal Bancroft, who is on a mission to kill the man who murdered her father. During a civil war between the South and the North, the northerners were outnumbered and started experimenting on humans with forbidden arts. Eventually they created Incarnates, humans that have been transformed into beasts with godlike powers but with an inability to turn back into what they once were (except for a few exceptions). With the power of the Incarnates, the war was swiftly put to an end but afterwards the beasts were met with a life of uncertainty and hatred. Due to the Incarnates being so powerful, the government wanted to bring an end to their lives, and thus a Beast Hunter came into existence.

This Beast Hunter, known as Hank, is an Incarnate who has the ability to transform between human and beast. Hank, who struck down Nancy’s father as the Beast Hunter, was previously the captain of a platoon of Incarnates during the war. At the beginning of our story Nancy seeks him out in a faraway town and asks why he had to kill her father, but their conversation is interrupted by the return of the Incarnate that Hank is currently on a mission to kill.

Nancy ends up tagging along with Hank, looking for answers as to why the Incarnate must be put down, and while the two adventure she realises that the beasts quite often have no sense of humanity left in them. It’s a sad situation because some of the beasts still show signs of who they were as humans, yet others do nothing but harm to those they’re living amongst. The story is written in such a way that we’re never lingering on the life of one Incarnate too long, and you’ll often find yourself pondering what could have been had they been left alive.

Throughout the story it’s slowly revealed that Hank has a past with each of the Incarnates he’s currently hunting down as they were all members of his platoon. It becomes clear to see that he’s not necessarily a bad guy and instead just completing a job that he believes has to be done. He’s a likeable character but perhaps a bit too aloof from Nancy and the world, yet certainly well written and easy to understand.

Nancy is a strong-spirited character. She’s not built for fighting, and prone to slowing Hank down when he’s battling an Incarnate, but she has the intelligence to make up for her lack of physical ability. For every time she might stumble in a battle, Nancy’s able to offer an interesting insight on a given situation, which redeems her character a great deal. Being the daughter of an Incarnate also puts her in a position to share opinions and perspectives that contrast with Hank’s and pave the way for some interesting conversations.

This is the first of Maybe’s work to be published physically in English and (while I’m disappointed it wasn’t Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) Vertical Comics have made a good choice. The story, as I’ve hopefully explained, is very well written, the artwork is gorgeous, and the character designs are striking. Maybe have always had a good eye for designing characters and Hank and Nancy are both well done. They’re simple designs but are brought alive by the little details, most notably the realism of their eyes and facial expressions. Backgrounds are also very detailed and remarkable. There is always a lot to see and I found that the shading was really well done to show the distinction between night and day scenes.

Action scenes are striking and packed with detail but this was never enough to confuse me as a reader. It’s always easy to work out where any character is at a given time. To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is only the second series the team have done that is so heavily focused around action and Maybe definitely deserve some recognition for handling their battle scenes so well. It’s pleasing to see and leaves me feeling satisfied that this series has a good future ahead of it in this regard.

Overall the first volume of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts offers a satisfying read and ends on just enough of a cliffhanger to leave you wanting to know more. Maybe have crafted an interesting story with a – so far – small but likable cast and I’m really excited to see where things go from here.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information

UK Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Fantasy, Shounen
Mangaka: Maybe
Number of Pages: 200

Blood-C Demonic Moonlight #1 Review

Blood C demonic moonlight volume 1

  • I’ve never watched Blood-C before. Long have I wanted to see the anime series but I’ve never quite got around to doing so. Thankfully, a handy introduction to the series finally made its way to me in the form of the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight, published by Dark Horse. This two-volume manga acts a prequel to the Blood-C anime and so far I’ve found it a good introduction to CLAMP/Production I.G’s mysterious world.

    The story is set in the year 1946 and centers around a second lieutenant of the American military, David, who’s job is to investigate “strange” incidents. These bizarre cases can range from murders that couldn’t possibly have been committed by a human, to reports of children being ‘spirited away’. During his investigations, David runs into a mysterious man known as Kagekiri, who seems to have an understanding of these supernatural occurrences. All of these incidents tie back to the Ancients: creatures that take advantage of humans as a means of feeding on them. Unfortunately, this volume doesn’t clearly explain the intents of the Ancients, simply that they’re the cause of these incidents in order to find food.

    What David lacks in knowledge is made up for with his good fighting reflexes and investigator’s intuition. While he and Kagekiri are polar opposites in terms of personality, the two make a fairly good team whenever fate puts them together. David is a caring man and shoulders the burden of being an American stationed in Japan after the war, so he, like many other Americans, isn’t treated all that well by most Japanese citizens. Despite this, however, he always does his best for the people in the towns that he travels through.

    Kagekiri is a respected priest that travels from shrine to shrine investigating any mysterious cases that the locals have been discussing. Although he’s known as a priest, he doesn’t do any of the duties that a priest would normally perform. Instead Kagekiri comes off like a bit of a carefree freeloader to others but when faced with an Ancient his personality changes drastically to a much more serious tone. Kagekiri wields a mysterious sword, which is actually just the hilt of a sword that can create a full blade through spiritual power, and hints are dropped throughout the book that perhaps he isn’t even human!

    Whatever the case may be with Kagekiri, our story overall is an interesting one. This first volume includes three different stories (one of them being split across two chapters) and it’s nice to see that David’s whole life doesn’t revolve around his being stuck with Kagekiri. The two only encounter another every few months going by the timeline of these stories. These periodic interactions keep their relationship fresh and prevents either of them getting on the other’s nerves (or ours).

    This type of episodic storytelling also leaves room for plenty of intrigue surrounding Kagekiri and offers more than enough secrets to leave you wanting more. I could see this approach to the story begin to feel stale if this were aiming to be a long running series but for a two-volume plot it works rather well. How this story links up to Blood-C is not yet all that apparent (apart from Kagekiri’s sword) but artist Ryo Haduki teases that the connection will become clear in the next volume.

    Blood-C Demonic Moonlight has been put together by CLAMP, Production I.G, and handled by Ryo Haduki. Haduki doesn’t yet have any other manga tied to his name so there isn’t anything to draw comparisons to, but regardless I’m fond of the work that he’s done here. Backgrounds and characters are drawn well and the panel layouts always fit nicely for the action scenes. The Ancients too are nicely drawn and suitably intimidating for the role they’re meant to fill.

    My only complaint in regards to the artwork is that I feel as though the action scenes were too smooth. The images are detailed and work for this type of series, but the problem is that they work too well. The characters react too precisely and methodically and the environments unrealistically favour their success, and as a result I’d frequently start to lose my connection with what was happening. The battles didn’t draw me into the world enough, nor did I ever truly believe that the cast were in real danger. It’s a difficult feeling to explain but I think saying that some scenes, even for a fantasy series like this, just didn’t feel believable enough for these characters.

    Overall I had a good time with the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight. Putting my complaints about the art aside, I’ve been drawn in by the cast and I’m hooked enough to be interested in volume two. I think that this works rather well as an introduction to the Blood-C universe, and now I really do need to actually watch Blood-C itself…
  • Score: 6/10
  • Manga Quick Information
    UK Publisher: Dark Horse
    Genre: Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
    Mangaka: Ryo Haduki
    Number of pages: 184

An interview with Kotoyo Noguchi

Kotoyo Noguchi is an independent manga artist, illustrator and designer based in Japan. To date she has published two volumes of her Life with Mii: Everyday Cat Stories (Shirokuro Neko Manga) series in English for an international audience through the Kindle store. The manga depicts true stories from the author’s personal experiences taking care of a pet cat, and its heartwarming style has made it successful enough to top Amazon Japan’s list of bestselling Kindle comics.

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

Anime UK News recently had the opportunity to ask the creator a few questions about her manga and the unique challenges of self-publishing for a global audience.

AUKN: When did you first start creating illustrations and manga?

When I was about fifteen years old I started drawing manga in my notepad with a pencil. Back then, I also wrote novels. At age seventeen I joined my high school’s Manga Club and began drawing manga using a pen and ink.

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

AUKN: What made you first decide to publish your work in English?

It had to be in English in order to be read by people around the world. Japanese-language editions weren’t accepted back when the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) service launched on Amazon USA, so I’d planned to publish in English right from the start.

AUKN: UK manga fans have traditionally purchased manga in book form, usually imported from North America. However, the market is changing rapidly and digital manga is becoming much more popular which makes it possible to reach a wider audience. Are there any challenges you have encountered with publishing your work on platforms such as Amazon? Would you recommend it to other authors?

There are different fees depending on the platform. The payment methods, commission (such as delivery charges) and taxes vary from country to country. Manga in particular uses a lot of data, which means that the selling price can’t be too low when authors have to pay delivery charges. The creators don’t receive any manuscript payment or advances and have to bear all of the risks themselves. I wouldn’t recommend it to other authors, but I think that those who want to give it a try will still go ahead.

AUKN: As fans, we often want to let writers know how we feel about a story we have read. With traditional distribution it’s difficult to be sure that our feedback will ever reach the creators. If a fan wants to comment on your work, how would you prefer they contacted you? Through social media? By leaving a review on Amazon?

Of course, I’m very glad to see Amazon reviews from readers. Reviews are ideal for making recommendations to other readers, while social networking suits direct communication with authors. Any reviews or comments give the creators a lot of motivation (and occasionally, they knock the wind out of our sails too). Because authors create their books in order to make readers happy. I think that receiving both reviews and direct correspondence is a wonderful thing.

AUKN: Will you be producing more English-translated work in future for your fans around the world?

Of course. Life with Mii has a sequel in Japan due to reader demand. I’d like to publish an English version of it someday.

AUKN: Is there anything that the English-speaking fan community can do to help Japanese creators?

Japanese-speakers don’t have access to much information about services and events in the English-speaking world. So I think Japanese creators have to communicate with English-speakers in a positive manner. It’s easy to participate in online activities (like this interview) so I was keen to do it. But some publishers dislike allowing direct contact with authors. Also, many Japanese people are not good at English, which I think is the biggest issue.

AUKN: Have you discovered anything unexpected – for example, countries where your stories were more popular than you thought they would be?

I didn’t expect to be interviewed by Anime UK News.

AUKN: Your Life With Mii manga collects lots of different short stories about your experiences taking care of your cat. Are any of the stories about Mii-chan particularly close to your heart?

While I like every memory with Mii, the first time she got in my bed is unforgettable.

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

AUKN: Your drawings of cats are very cute, and cat lovers will instantly recognise the way their pets behave in your work even though our countries are so far apart. Even though your manga can be enjoyed by people all over the world, there are lots of small details in the background which are distinctly Japanese, such as the stories about using a kotatsu in winter. When your manga was being adapted into English, were you worried that foreign fans might not understand any of the cultural references?

I asked my friend, who is a translator, some questions before publishing. She told me “Never mind, leave it as it is.” After publishing, I received a message from a reader in Mexico. She said “I want to buy a Kotatsu. I have become very interested in it.” I wonder whether cat lovers want to buy silver vine too? Things we’ve never seen before can be attractive. As a matter of fact, I wanted to eat Marmite when I saw it on the Internet but I couldn’t buy it in my local grocery shop so I bought Vegemite instead. Well, I think it had an interesting taste.

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

AUKN: I see that your two books have also had physical releases in English through Amazon’s CreateSpace service. Do you feel that there is still a demand for paper copies of manga, rather than reading everything electronically?

I think it’s important that readers can choose the format they prefer rather than it being my opinion. Both digital and physical publication have strengths and weaknesses. It’s good to have two options available so there’s a backup, and likewise it’s good to have many distribution channels, including book shops. However, the costs increase along with the number of middlemen. It’s a difficult route for a self-publisher. Furthermore, book shops might sell more than physical books in the future.

AUKN: The translated version of Life With Mii has also been released on the Japanese Kindle store as a language-learning aid for Japanese readers studying English. The concept of ‘tadoku’ – learning another language naturally through reading rather than traditional study – is really interesting and attractive. Have you considered adapting your manga for English-speakers who are learning Japanese as well?

Of course I’ve thought about it. Learning a foreign language takes a long time; if you’re not happy then you can’t keep going. Language is a communication tool but in Japan its main purpose is for taking tests. Since learning methods have been focusing on grammar for many years, most Japanese people can’t actually use English. For more about the effectiveness of Tadoku, please read the story of the linguist Stephen Krashen.

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

AUKN: The designs on the Life With Mii merchandise are very cute (we love the “You are the boss” picture!) What made you decide to start selling merchandise based on your manga?

Thank you! I love it too. I originally created it as a LINE sticker. It’s good but I wanted to have some merchandise like T-shirts, so I thought “I’ll make what I want!” Cat lovers want to be with their favourite cat at all times, right?

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

AUKN: Your DeviantArt/Instagram accounts (and the larger illustrations of Mii in the Life With Mii manga) show that you can work with a variety of art styles. Have you considered trying a more realistic style in any of your future manga? We would be interested to see it!

Yes, I will make works in a variety of styles. I have to do the design and editing, so I have several authors within me and I feel that I have to nurture them. Going back to the question, I’m currently editing some manga I drew back in my school days which is very interesting. It’s so crude that it takes my breath away, but that’s fine. Such things can’t be published commercially so that’s one of the advantages of self-publishing. I even made an animation a few years ago (the translation is still underway so it’s only in Japanese).

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi

AUKN: You are quite active on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc). Do you find this is a good way to promote your work across the world?

It’s good to use the best method. Each social network has its own features so I think we have to choose the service according to the situation. For example, official information goes on Facebook, rough pictures go on Twitter, and so on.

AUKN: Aside from your own work, what are your favourite manga or anime series? Do you have any particular inspirations?

I can’t list all of the ones I like! Ah, well on the topic of gender there’s Princess Knight and Lady Oscar (The Rose of Versailles), for special powers there’s Tokimeki Tonight and Fullmetal Alchemist, for science fiction there’s Dirty Pair and Galaxy Express 999, for action with a female cast there’s Yajikita Gakuen Douchuuki, for fantasy there’s The Twelve Kingdoms, Guin Saga, Moribito; I like these kinds of things and they inspire me. With Life with Mii, I wanted to express it as a picture book like Hans Fischer’s Pitschi and Charles Monroe Schulz’s Peanuts.

AUKN: Finally – please tell us more about your work! If a future fan is reading this interview, how would you encourage them to take a look at your manga on Amazon?

Hi, Anime UK News readers, I’m Kotoyo Noguchi. Life with Mii is a manga of my life with my cat Mii. Unfortunately, Mii now lives on in Heaven. When sharing your life with a cat there are happy things and also worries about foods, training and whether your cat might be sick. Life with Mii is for people who have cats and people who have lost their cats; I drew it for all of the people who love cats. Although I can’t talk to each and every one of you, I hope this manga will snuggle up in your life.

All images copyright Kotoyo Noguchi


Life with Mii: Everyday cat stories (Volume 1)
Life with Mii: Everyday cat stories (Volume 2)
白黒猫まんが (Volume 1) [Tadoku version for Japanese people studying English]
白黒猫まんが (Volume 2) [Tadoku version for Japanese people studying English]

Kotoyo Noguchi on Facebook (English)
Kotoyo Noguchi on Facebook (Japanese)
Kotoyo Noguchi on Twitter
Kotoyo Noguchi on DeviantArt
Official Website
Official Goods Shop

All images used in this interview are copyrighted and the property of Kotoyo Noguchi. They have been reproduced with the creator’s permission.


If you enjoyed this article, please also check our interview with Mariko Hihara, a Japanese author involved in self-publishing for the English-speaking audience.

An interview with Mariko Hihara

Mariko Hihara is an experienced Japanese author who has written over fifty novels, primarily in the boys’ love/yaoi and fantasy genres, as well as scripts for several manga. She has been quick to adapt to the potential of self-publishing her work for the English-speaking market outside Japan through channels such as the Kindle Store and iBooks.

All images copyright Hihara Mariko

Anime UK News was lucky enough to be able to interview Hihara-sensei to talk about her experiences as a creator.

AUKN: When did you first start creating stories and manga?

I read the Handbook for Comics (Ishinomori Shotaro No Mangaka Nyumon) by Shotaro Ishinomori, a famous manga writer, when I was in elementary school. From then on I started creating manga.

AUKN: What made you first decide to publish your work in English?

In 2010 I read a news article on a website which said that Amazon’s self-publishing platform had launched in the US, but it was not available in Japan. So I decided to publish my books in English through Amazon.com.

AUKN: UK manga fans have traditionally purchased manga in book form, usually imported from North America. However, the market is changing rapidly and digital manga is becoming much more popular which makes it possible to reach a wider audience. Are there any challenges you have encountered with publishing your work on platforms such as Amazon? Would you recommend it to other authors?

Five years ago it was very difficult to create digital comics. But now there are many free tools to make digital books on the web, such as Amazon’s Kindle Comic Creator. So any authors can easily self-publish now.

AUKN: As fans, we often want to let writers know how we feel about a story we have read. With traditional distribution it’s difficult to be sure that our feedback will ever reach the creators. If a fan wants to comment on your work, how would you prefer they contacted you? Through social media? By leaving a review on Amazon?

We are encouraged by any kinds of feedback from our fans. But please never leave negative reviews on Amazon if possible, I beg you!

AUKN: Will you be producing more English-translated work in future for your fans around the world?

Yesss!

AUKN: Is there anything that the English-speaking fan community can do to help Japanese creators?

Help with our English translations is always appreciated. If we make any grammar mistakes, please let us know!

AUKN: Have you discovered anything unexpected – for example, countries where your stories were more popular than you thought they would be?

We have discovered that American and British fans have different tastes.

AUKN: English translations of short stories and novels are still relatively rare, even though they are steadily becoming more popular. Since you have experience of writing novels and creating manga scripts, would you be able to tell us a little about the differences between creating a story as a novel and as a manga?

When I create a novel I prefer to describe the psychology of the characters. With manga, I would emphasise the visuals and the way the characters move.

All images copyright Hihara Mariko

AUKN: You have also published some of your work in English on the iTunes store. How has the experience differed between publishing on Amazon’s Kindle and the iTunes ebook service?

Apple and Amazon have their own censorship criteria. So some of our titles were pulled from the Kindle store but not from iTunes, and vice versa.

AUKN: The UK is a popular setting for manga, with titles as diverse in theme as Kaoru Mori’s Emma and Kouta Hirano’s Hellsing basing their stories here, and the Victorian era seems especially popular. What is it about the setting that inspired you to choose it for your My Beloved Werewolf series?

I love novels set in the Victorian Age, such as the works of Dickens and George MacDonald. I also love Sherlock Holmes. So I used the Victorian era as the setting for my series.

AUKN: Do you hope that this series will be particularly popular with British readers?

Yesss!

All images copyright Hihara Mariko

AUKN: Yaoi/BL is an increasingly popular genre here in the west, with more new titles getting published every month. What do you think it is about BL stories that make them so popular across the world?

This is a very difficult question. Research on why BL is read in America has been inconclusive and it still hasn’t even been properly studied in Japan, so this is my personal opinion.

I think that obstacles fan the flames of love. In the past, there were many hindrances such as social class, wealth and so on. But there are fewer of these obstacles nowadays, so many people – especially girls who like romance – love yaoi/BL.

All images copyright Hihara Mariko

AUKN: If our readers could only buy one of your books, which would you recommend they try first?

I recommend Longing for Spring. It’s a historical romance with a Japanese noble boy and a Japanese-American set in the post-WWII period. It’s like Downton Abbey.

AUKN: Aside from your own work, what are your favourite manga or anime series? Do you have any particular inspirations?

I love Osamu Tezuka’s work. He created many manga with stories about shapeshifting such as Big X, The Vampires, Princess Knight and Rainbow Parakeet. And I love the anime series Sailor Moon. So I have been inspired by those titles.

AUKN: Finally – please tell us more about your work! If a future fan is reading this interview, how would you encourage them to take a look at your manga on Amazon?

We hope that people who love romance, fantasy and adventure will read and enjoy our manga. On top of that, we hope that manga fans will come to Japan and participate in Comic Market! There are many places that manga fans should try to visit in Japan. For example, there are museums dedicated to local creators (Ghibli Museum, Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, Shotaro Ishinomori Memorial Museum and many more, such as those listed on this Japanese website) and also regions which manga have used as their settings.

All images copyright Hihara Mariko


Roppongi Night Clinic volume 1
Longing for Spring
Passion Under the Full Moon (My Beloved Werewolf volume 1)
Roll Over Dickens (My Beloved Werewolf volume 2)
A Boy from the East (My Beloved Werewolf volume 3)
Sunny, with occasional dogs (My Beloved Werewolf volume 4)

Mariko Hihara on Facebook
Official Website

All images used in this interview are copyrighted. They have been reproduced with the creator’s permission.


If you enjoyed this article, please also check our interview with Kotoyo Noguchi, a Japanese illustrator involved in self-publishing for the English-speaking audience.