Thursday, December 16, 2010

Death Note

Death Note begins with Light, an above-average Japanese student. He seems to be bored with the pace of the schools, and easily maintains his head-of-the-class position. However, his life turns around when he finds the Death Note, a notebook that allows him to kill people by simply writing down their name. Once he discovers the notebook’s power, he begins to wonder how he can use it to society’s advantage. He decides to use it to kill off the world’s most dangerous criminals, which seems to be going fine for a while. However, what Light overlooks is how people will react to the sudden death of all the criminals. There is a worldwide fascination with the deaths, and although no one knows that they were caused by Light, our protagonist still becomes very narcissistic as the fame goes to his head. He even begins to discuss a future utopia in which he is in charge. The police begin to investigate, but they have to rely on more help. They call in the investigator “L”, who has proven to be unstoppable in the past. The compelling nature of the story comes from Light’s chase from Detective L. However, Light’s behavior becomes much more cynical when he begins to kill off FBI officers who are working in Japan. What the reader later discovers is the fact that one FBI officer’s fiancée used to also work in the FBI, and has information that could lead to Light’s arrest. Possibly worst of all though occurs when Light’s father heads a task force against the murderer, unaware that it is his own son. Detective L eventually joins the task force, even further adding to the suspense of how long Light can keep his act together.
The book has some major characters other than Light and Detective L, particularly Misa Amane, Near, Mello, and the Shinigami. Misa Amane is a Japanese model with a burning crush on Light. She has a very ditzy personality, and is always insisting that she and Light had “love at first sight”. However, Light only views her as somewhat annoying, and gets tired of her clingy personality.
Near is very similar to Detective L throughout the story. He even begins to call himself “N”, and has very similar idiosyncrasies. As L stacks sugar cubes, N stacks dice. When L plays with random objects, N also plays with similar things. He is very calm and emotional, and has pale skin.
Mello is an orphan who grew up in a home for “gifted” children. He is very intelligent, but usually is overcome by his emotions. He is usually seen eating bars of chocolate, and has a life goal to surpass L and Near.
Finally, the Shinigami are beings that live in the Shinigami realm. They appear somewhat evil, and are actually very lazy. They spend much of their time gambling, and the only work they really do involves use of the death note. When they get closer and closer to death, they write a human’s name in the death book, and use that human’s life to extend their own. For example, if the Shinigami killed someone who would have lived for forty more years, then they would receive these forty years of life. In this sense, they are immortal. However, true love for a human can kill them. The main Shinigami are Ryuk, Rim, and Sidoh.
The Death Note series is illustrated in all black and white by Takeshi Obata. The effect of the lack of color allows the reader to determine the mood of the page. If the page is of majority black, then it denotes a sense of strong danger, and vice-versa if the page is of majority white. This mood determination also correlates to the evil and good characters. The Shinigami death god is drawn in black attire, with black hair. His notebook is also black, denoting the sense of evil.

According to Scott McCloud, in his book Understanding Comics, the “Big Triangle,” would label illustrations from Death Note as being realistic with iconic representation and a hint of cartoony characters, such as the Shinigami death god. The illustration for Death Note would be place in the middle of the base of the “Big Triangle,” because of the characters resemblance to human beings, yet their over exaggerated facial expressions, make the shift towards the right of the triangle that is a pure cartoon approach to illustration. McCloud would agree that this novel contains a multitude of different scene transitions, most commonly the action to action and scene to scene transition.

Works Cited:

McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics - the Invisible Art HarperCollins 1994

Naruto Review

As a group, we read the first three chapters of Naruto for our Graphic Novel class. After reading, we are now writing a plot summary and analysis of the manga novel’s style.

Naruto is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto. The series is currently still in production and has not been finished. The main plot tells the story of Naruto Uzumaki. Naruto is a ninja still in training who is constantly seeking attention and recognition. His goal in which he works the whole novel for is to become a Hokage. A Hokage is a ninja who rules a village and is recognized as the most powerful ninja in that village.

Naruto Uzumaki has a very unique past, as do many graphic novel heroes. As a young boy, Naruto had the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox sealed within him. The story behind the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox is that twelve years prior to the start of the series, the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox attacked the ninja village where Naruto resides, Konohagakure, slaughtering many people. To defend his village from the attack, the leader of Konohagakure and the most powerful ninja (as referenced above), the Fourth Hokage, sacrificed his life to seal the demon inside Naruto. This happened twelve years prior to the start of the series therefore Naruto was a newborn when the demon was sealed within him. The Third Hokage, who took control after the Fourth Holage’s death, made it a law to never mention the attack of the demon fox or to talk about where the demon now resided. This decree also included Naruto, who does not become aware of the demon inside of him for many years.

The first chapter picks up showing Naruto as a trouble maker. His behavioral problems and mistreatment by town officials are explained by the demon inside of him. Naruto begins school and his adventures start when he joins team 7. The main plot line follows team 7, Naruto and his two friends, Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno. These two people are students along with Naruto who are chosen to be on a three-team, team 7, for training and to complete missions. Young ninjas join these teams in order to move higher in the ranks of ninjas and for Naruto, to eventually become Hokage. The purpose of these teams is to complete missions for the villagers however may trivial or difficult they may be. The main plot line follows Naruto’s team throughout their adventures and missions, showing each member’s growth and development not just as a ninja, but as a person. The story depicts each character’s personal lives and problems and how they affect their growth as a ninja. To simplify it, Naruto is like the soap opera, Days of Our Lives, but with more fighting, ninjas, Japanese culture, and younger characters.

The style of manga is different from that of western comics in many different aspects. Ranging from the use of lines in the different panels, all the way to the symbols used for action. For example, the lines drawn in manga were a lot different than those in western ones. There are thin, straight lines, that are dense to show shading, and detail. There are also normal lines to show shape and form. In manga, these lines are used often to dramatize the panels.
Addition to that, the characters, environment, objects, and so on, are all really close to realism. Even when they use magic to transform or multiply, there are many clones but all seem like realistic people. Of course the symbols, and clothes are not really seen in real life, but could easily be imitated, therefore do not stray far from realism. The detail shown in each person adds to the realism; every emotion in a person is portrayed with significant detail. For example, if someone is happy they are portrayed with squinting eyes, and a wide grin. Whenever they are angry we notice the obvious frown, and the smaller eyes. This is also seen in western style, but this is a lot more common, and obvious in manga.
Another important factor is the way the dialogue boxes were drawn. The dialogue boxes, and the lack off showed as much emotions as did the words inside. For example, for excitement the dialogue boxes had sharp jagged edges and the letters inside were bolder than normal. And as the panel is zoomed out and we would barely be able to hear the talking, dialogue boxes aren’t even present. Also outside of the dialogue boxes are random shapes, possibly letters in a different language, that show onamanepia, and so on. Along with the dialogue goes the facial expression. As mentioned previously, happiness and disappointment is all shown dramatically, but inner expression is shown also; especially in page 91, one panel in which we see “inner Sakura” behind the normal one, and so on.
Another large difference, one of the most obvious ones is the fact that manga is read the exact opposite of the “normal” western style. Online the pages have already been arranged backwards to make it easier for the reader, but chapter one was on the bottom of the list, and in each page the reader has to read it from right to left.

Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo: Teach Me How to Duggie

            Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo by Yoshi Sawai is a Humorous Japanese Manga Comic set in an odd, distant future where the evil Maruhage Empire seeks to rid the world of its hair. The story heavily uses parody, non sequitur story telling, and Hajike, or “wigging-out” for its humor. Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, the main and title character, is a muscular and unpredictable hero for hair who wields an opening Afro which often acts as a stage for side dramas. When the story begins, he  is already despised by the “hair-hunters” because of his history of foiling their plans by using his special “Fist of Nose Hair” abilities. Over the course of the first volume he is joined by two companions on his quest; Beauty and Don Patch. Beauty is a teenage girl who adores and wishes to follow Bo-bobo on his quest for no more reason, than just to be with him. She often portrays an opposite viewpoint from Bo-bobo and is used as a grounding method for what is normal in the comic. Don Patch is a small star-burst-shaped character that shares much of the unpredictability of Bo-bobo. He was formerly the leader of Party-Town and joined Bo-bobo because of a shared resentment of the Maruhage Empire.
            The first volume of the Manga follows a very simple quest style plot, but it is often broken up by distractions amongst the characters. The story begins by Bo-bobo appearing to save a village that was under attack by the Hair-Hunters. Beauty was in the village and after hearing a small back ground story on Bo-bobo, pleads to be allowed to follow him. After agreeing,  they go to the G-Block base of the Hair-Hunters and defeat the leader. After leaving the pair are attacked by a perverted Hair-Hunter, who Bo-bobo defeats. The battle is witnessed b a mysterious boy. The pair then travel to Party Town on their aimless quest where Bo-bobo challenges to win the title of best party-er. After beating everyone else, the boss, Don Patch is released. After battling for a while, a hair hunter arrive and takes Beauty away. Don Patch and Bo-bobo, formerly enemies become allies because of their shared hatred for the Hair-Hunters and pursue. They come to the Hair-Hunter block A base and battle the inhabitants. During which time, the mysterious boy from before reappears to defend Beauty. After the base Captain is defeated, Bo-bobo and Don Patch find Beauty and continue on their quest. They find and defeat yet another Hair-Hunter and then a mysterious monster appears. The Monster asks for the mysterious boy, who is being searched for by the Hair-Hunters. But the boy evades the monster and remains safe at the end of the volume.

Visual Styles
The visual style in Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo is varied but descriptive and helps the reader to interpret the activities of each scene. For example, even though this is more of a humorous comic, the more serious panels in the comic incorporate the use of strong bold lines along with a dark background. This emphasizes the the seriousness of the panel and separates it from the more common humorous panels which consist of a lighter backdrop and smoother more curved lines. Another prominent aspect of the visual style used in this manga is the onomatopoeia. With many of the actions that occur during the panels, there will often be sound effects written all across the panel so that the words themselves seem to be a part of the picture. This is a common trait shared by most manga, however in Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, this feature enhances the randomness and comedy the manga is known for. The last important aspect of the visual style of this comic is the style used to draw the fight scenes. These scenes are mainly composed of haphazard lines clumped together for the background, and the characters will be drawn much darker. Drawing the fight scenes this way gives them special attention so that the reader will not just skim over them while reading.

The reason for a lot of Bobobo-bo Bo-Bobo’s randomness comes from the very unique array of characters that have embarked on Bobobo-bo’s quest. In the first volume we are introduced to Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, who is supposed to be the hero of the comic. Bobobo-bo is an unusual hero because he is such an unpredictable person. It is safe to say that the actions Bobobo will make are nearly impossible to predict, not even the people that are on his team can predict what he will do next. There were even certain cases where Bobobo would harm his fellow allies, for example, he constantly puts Popa Rocks in danger sometimes even directly hurting him. Aside from his unpredictable and weird behavior, Bobobo can still remain a serious character when there is a real threat to the friends that can’t defend themselves like he can. Beneath Bobobo’s incredibly muscular body, sporting sunglasses and large golden afro, is a very sensitive man who is simply trying to make a better world for hair everywhere.
Along Bobobo’s journey to stop the hair hunting troops he encounters characters that will later join his team. The first person to join Bobobo was the character of Beauty. Beauty is the heroine of the group and although it may not be obvious at first, she is one of the characters that keep the group from completely losing control and breaking down. Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo uses Manzai humor, which is a traditional style of stand-up comedy in Japanese culture. It usually involves two performers—a straight man and a funny man—trading jokes at great speed. That is where Beauty comes into play. While Bobobo and Don Patch are running around, acting like idiots, Beauty remains serious for the sake of their sanity and to further emphasize the craziness. It is a comedic value that I feel works out very well and never seizes to surprise. Beauty is completely useless when it comes to fighting and defending herself, but she keeps the group on track and helps them not make complete fools out of them selves during desperate times.
The final and possibly the most outrageous character in the novel is Don Patch, who is an orange star. You can tell right away from his appearance that he is a strange character. While facing extreme danger and the many powerful and troublesome threats in this world, he usually keeps his chin up and either finds or says something that completely destroys the mood of the battle or makes things even more bizarre. Don Patch is a very narcissistic character who is always trying to steal the show and become the center of attention. Often times he becomes jealous of Bobobo for being the main character of the novel. This common jealousy results in Don Patch getting beat up by Bobobo for being annoying. There are even times when he tries to become a better heroine than Beauty, which involves a lot awkward cross dressing scenarios. To summarize Don Patch in simpler terms, he is a complete idiot and for that, he is an incredibly important part of Bobobo’s comedy.

Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo is a nonsensical, mocking, and random manga. Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo is random scene to scene panel to panel. Everything in this manga is unpredictable and out of the ordinary; the characters, the plot, and all the little details that compose it give rise to a great to read humorous magna.  The randomness begins with the world being rule by the bald empire; the bald empire wants everyone to look like him so he puts together a group of bald soldiers and gives them a warrant to remove all hairs in the world. Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo the main character stands in the way of the bald empire. He is one of the few remaining people with hair. His father is a hairball and his sidekick is a pickle. In all of his encounters with the bald troopers, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo uses his nose hairs to defeat them and continuously using different phrases that put in plain words what attack he is performing. In some circumstances small characters come out of his nose and seem to live in the hairs inside his nose. Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo never seems to strike any one with his any of his limbs and is always shown striking his enemies with hairs on his body. Bobobo-bo Bo-bobos non sequitur comedy make this magna a work of art.

The Dragon of the Graphic Novel Genre

Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama was and still is an extremely popular manga. It ran for more that a decade from 1984 -1995 and contained forty volumes at the time of its completion. It was turned into an extremely popular anime as well. It was a fusion of comedy and action, mythology and science-fiction and even had a little bit of romance as well. It is the iconic Shōnen manga and almost defined the genre. The first six volumes are a great introduction to the manga, and though it evolved over time, represent the series well.
Dragon Ball began as a parody of the Chinese story Journey to the West but evolved into such a much larger story over the course of its life. It follows the story of Son Goku, the main character of the novel. It begins when he is twelve years old and living along in the country far from civilization. Raised by his grandfather, Goku has been taught in the ways of the martial arts and therefore is able to hunt effectively without the need for weapons. The only memento of his grandfather, who was killed by a monster on the night of a full moon, is four-starred orange sphere.
Enter dragon ball hunter Bulma who is seeking just such a sphere. Guided by the radar she made to seek out their energy signature, She drives to Goku’s home where her vehicle is promptly flipped by a very surprised Goku who just came back from fishing. Believing her to be a monster he threatens her until she reveals her purpose for coming. Bulma explains that when all seven dragon balls are collected one limitless wish is granted. Goku, unwilling to part with what is now revealed to be the four-starred dragon ball, decides to join her in her quest after she convinces him that the best martial artists travel the world in search of adventure and training.
Along the way Goku very comically and crudely learns about the differences between girls and boys and finds out that not all humans have monkey tails. Remaining a teen boy’s series its doesn’t get too graphic, but Toriyama’s sexual jokes are quite abundant in the first few adventures. Using the power of capsules, little pill-sized objects containing houses, planes and anything larger, Goku and Bulma are able to get around fairly quickly. By leading a lost turtle to the sea they meet Master Roshi, a master martial artist turned island hermit who gives them a dragon ball and a magic flying cloud that only the “pure of heart” can ride.
As they continue their search for the dragon balls, they meet Oolong, a shapeshifting pig, Yamcha, a desert bandit, Puar, one of Oolong’s former schoolmates also cabable of shapeshifting, and the Ox-King and his daughter Chi-Chi. Oolong, Puar, and Yamcha, are the only ones who join them in their quest, though Yamcha and Puar only join them near the end in hopes of stealing the wish.
They end up facing Pilaf and his minions who steal their dragon balls, captures them and successfully manage to summon Shenron, the Eternal Dragon. Oolong, the unlikely hero, thwarts Pilaf’s plans for world domination last minute by making a wish for panties. The dragon grants his wish and the balls scatter in all directions. After Pilaf captures them again in rage, Goku accidently looks at the full moon and it is revealed he becomes an enormous uncontrollable ape-monster. Luckily, Yamcha had earlier learned of Goku’s tail weakness and cut off his tail to make him change back to his old self. When he wakes up, Goku has no memory of the event and wonders where his tail has gone.
Afterwards, the dragon team splits up. Goku leaves for Master Roshi’s Island and the rest to the West City, Bulma and Yamcha wishes of finding a significant other being fulfilled by finding eachother. Goku travels to Master Roshi’s island to train where he meets Krillin, who will later become his best friend, as well as Launch, a girl who is only a sneeze away from transforming into crazed gunman. They spend the next eight months training for the 21st World Martial Arts Tournament.
When the tournament comes around, Goku, Krillin, and Yamcha all make it to the quarter-finals, as well as Master Roshi disguised as Jackie Chun. In Goku’s first match, his tail grows back. Goku and Jackie Chun both make it to the finals, where Goku transforms again. Chun changes him back with a magical martial arts move, the Kamehameha, a beam of energy that destroys the moon. Goku ends up losing the championship, and sets off on his own to look for his grandfather’s memento, the Four-Star Dragon Ball.
While on his journey, he comes face to face with several members of the Red Ribbon Army, lead by Commander Red, who are too seeking the dragon balls. By defeating Colonel Silver and General White Goku obtains two balls, neither of which are his grandfather’s. He then finds that the dragon ball radar that Bulma gave him is broken and he heads to her house in West City to repair it. Bulma rejoins him in his quest, and they unknowingly set a course for where General Blue is searching for another dragon ball in the sea. To find the dragon ball they go to Master Roshi’s island to ask for a submarine and where they recruit Krillin.
The track the ball to an abandoned pirate’s cave, being followed close behind by General Blue. After surviving numerous traps they find the dragon ball. Blue shows himself and almost kills Krillian before Goku can stop him. The cave begins collapsing while Bulma and Krillin head back to the sub, Goku continues to look for the dragon ball. He succeeds in his search, but it also isn’t his grandpa’s. He makes it back to the sub just in time and they narrowly escape the collapsing cave, while Blue seemingly does not.
They go back to Roshi’s island temporarily, where Blue returns, with no explanation for how he survived and he makes off with their dragon balls. Goku follows Blue while Bulma and Krillin stay behind, no longer wanting to come along. Blue is defeated (though not killed) here by a convenient strong girl and Goku heads off to continue his search. He meets Upa and his son Bora, two Sioux-themed characters in the Land of Korin, who just happen to have the very ball he is searching for. Meanwhile, Blue has returned to the Red Ribbon Base and is killed by Mercenary Tao, who Commander Red has hired to kill Goku and retrieve the dragon balls.
Tao then heads off to Goku’s location and easily kills Bora, and defeats Goku with ease as well. However, Goku survived because his grandpa’s ball was in his shirt and softened the blow from Tao’s special move, the Dodon Ray. Tao takes the dragon ball’s he finds in Goku’s bag, but misses the one in Goku’s shirt. He heads off to find a tailor to get new clothes (Goku had destroyed his outfit with his Kamehameha) and is told by Red that he is missing one of the dragon balls and Red orders him to return after he gets a new outfit.
Goku, upon waking up, climbs Korin’s Tower, which is said to house the Sacred Water which will multiply the drinker’s abilities several times over. When he reaches the top, Korin tells him that he may drink the water if he can take it from him first. It takes Goku three days to finally take it. Korin smugly reveals that the water wasn’t at all magical and that it was the difficulty of climbing the tower twice and successfully taking the water from him that increased his strength. The sixth volume concludes with Goku ready to face Tao again with his new-found strength.
Dragon Ball is an interesting series that has a lot of sexual jokes and action. The perfect novel for the demographic it is aimed at: teenage boys. However it is noticeable how the novel evolves from being a satire to a hero’s tale in its own right. Goku is a twelve year old boy and innocent at the beginning of the series and as he grows more powerful and matures the novel evolves with him. For comedic effect, Goku initially cannot tell the gender of a person by looking at them and touches their genitals in order to find out. But as the novel goes one he no longer is fighting comical villains like Oolong, who though he can look intimidating, has a very low pain tolerance, or Pilaf who blushes at the slightest hint of romance. He begins fighting villain like the Mercenary Tao who ruthlessly kills for money and doesn’t care if he leaves an orphan or kills a child.
However, Dragon Ball still retains some of its comedy which counterpoints the often dour mood of the graphic novel. For example, when Krillin in order to win a fight against a very smelly opponent, realizes the artist had drawn him without a nose so he isn’t affected by the noxious fumes. Also, in a fight against his disguised master, he used panties to distract Chun while he takes advantage of the opening. Mercenary Tao, while ruthless, kills General Blue by stabbing through his temple with his tongue.
There is a recurring theme of redemption throughout the manga. Oolong, starts out as a villainous kidnapper who continuously scares the villagers by transforming into various large creatures, but then joins Goku and Bulma in their quest to search for the dragon balls. He was unwilling at first, but he quickly becomes a frequent ally of theirs. Later on, Yamcha and Puar, who begin as desert bandits who feign friendship in order to steal the wish once the seven dragon balls are collected, reform as well and join Goku’s side. Other characters after the first six volumes also undergo this process.
In the few colored chapters in the graphic novel, there tends to be lots of inconsistency with colors. For example, in the chapter where Goku faces Nam in the semi-finals of the tournament, Nam’s outfit changes color once, initially being an orange color, and changing to a bright pink soon after. Later on, when Goku fights the pirate robot, the first few panels show Goku and Krillin to have orange martial arts gi, and in a page directly following, their gi are red. This is fairly frequent throughout the colored chapters, but after the colors switch in this manner, they tend to remain that way for the rest of the chapter.
Dragon Ball, being a graphic novel involves a lot of action - to -action panel transitions. The fight scenes are incredibly detailed, detailing nearly every movement of a character when they perform martial arts moves such as back-flips. Scenes where a character performs a special move such as the Kamehameha or the Dodon Ray are extremely detailed in order to show how powerful and taxing these moves are.
In addition to martial arts there are plenty of mystical elements as well. However this is contrasted very interestingly against incredible technology. Creatures such as dragons and magic are abundant in the graphic novel and are complimented by a large number of technological marvels such as the capsules mentioned earlier, androids, and robots. The graphic novel does a very good job of seamlessly integrating these elements into the story so that it doesn’t seem surprising when Goku obtains a magic cloud that flies faster than a helicopter or when Master Roshi happens to have a submarine on hand when they most need one.
Overall we believe that Dragon Ball graphic novel is a great novel to pick up if you are a teenage boy because it rolls up fantasy elements from many different genres, has a lot of action and often makes jokes that would be most funny if you are a boy. However the novel is well written and well designed. Plot holes are sometimes left unfilled, but often these are not important to the story and would have taken away from it if they were to be explained. Dragon Ball is a good graphic novel for those readers who enjoy high action, high fantasy and can tolerate the crude but funny jokes that the author throws in from time to time. The inconsistency in coloring for colored chapters may be annoying to some, but it is counteracted by the fact that the coloring is vivid and pleasing to the eye.

What Is Bleach and How Does It Work? (not the cleaning chemical)

Over the last few weeks, we decided to read Bleach, written and illustrated by Noriaki "Tite" Kubo, which is one of the most popular mangas in both the US and Japan. Bleach revolves around the adventures of student Ichigo Kurosaki after he obtains spirit powers of a Soul Reaper from another Soul Reaper, Rukia Kuchiki. The Soul Reapers’ duties include defending humans from evil spirits, known as Hollows, and guiding good spirits to the afterlife. After Ichigo obtains his new powers, some of his friends develop similar “spirit powers” and help him fight the increasing number of Hollows.

In Bleach, souls reside in an extra-dimensional place called Soul Society of which Soul Reapers are the military and police force. The Soul Reapers are led by the Gotei 13, a group 13 captains who have immense power. The main antagonist, Sōsuke Aizen was a part of the Gotei 13 before he betrayed the Soul Reapers and sided with the Hollows. He obtains an object, the Hōgyoku, which has the power to make the desires of the user come true. The last story arc of Bleach, which we read, covers Ichigo and his friends’ attempt to stop Aizen and save Soul Society. The arc begins with Ichigo and the other captains of the Gotei 13 confronting Aizen and his army of Hollows. While the captains defeat the hollows, they are effortlessly dispatched by Aizen. This leaves Ichigo to confront Aizen alone, resulting in a climatic battle. At the conclusion of the battle, Ichigo sacrifices his Soul Reaper powers in order to deliver a final, powerful strike to Aizen which results in the villain’s defeat.

Kubo utilizes a realistic art style that seeks to place the reader at the scenes of the many battles in Bleach. Some of the techniques Kubo heavily relies on are shading and action lines. Kubo’s realistic style allows the reader to get absorbed into the various fights in Bleach without having to worry about the details. Along with Kubo’s generous use of realistic shading, he often shades half of a panel to show moments of surprise and turning points in the plot. However, Bleach contains many solid color backgrounds too. These solid color backgrounds allow the reader to concentrate on the foreground image, which usually consists of characters or text bubbles, that are often a key part of the current scene. When shading is used like this, Kubo seeks to convey that feeling of surprise to the reader. Because battles in Bleach move so fast, action lines are often used to convey the commotion of battles and allow the reader to truly feel the speed of certain scenes.

The borders of panels in Bleach are sometimes ill-defined and images will spill into one another. This aspect of Kubo’s art style once again complements the disorder of battles and attempts to convey a sense of disarray to the reader. Bleach uses onomatopoeia often and are drawn across whole pages sometimes. The onomatopoeia are also stretched and distorted to accommodate the sound effects that they were intended to make. Speech bubbles are also often spiked and the text within them are bolded when the character is screaming, which contrasts with the smaller text when the characters are whispering or mumbling to themselves. These different ways of drawing the text allow the reader to almost hear the dialogue and gives the manga a more realistic feeling overall.

The overall artistic style that Kubo utilizes seeks to bride the gap between fantasy and the real world. His application of human features on the Shinigami and abstract designs of Hollow masks accomplishes the feat and gives the reader a sense of a seemingly possible world. Because Bleach’s artistic style is so realistic, it doesn’t seek to place the reader in the shoes of Ichigo. Instead, the art allows the reader to enjoy the battles from an observer viewpoint.

Bleach is an action-packed and fast-paced manga. After introducing the main characters and their abilities, the story quickly launches into an all-out adventure as Ichigo develops as a person and as a fighter. The fast quality of the plot allows for plenty of sword-swinging action and nail-biting suspense.

However, although this fast—paced characteristic makes Bleach an exciting and enjoyable manga, the plot moves somewhat too quickly and is somewhat disconnected. Bleach is comprised mostly of fighting scenes, leaving very little time for dialogue and serious plot development. Therefore, Bleach is not for those who enjoy reading complex dialogue and character thoughts. This extreme speed also interferes with the continuity of the plot. Because Kubo pushes the story forward so quickly, the transitioning between story arcs is rough and poorly done. For example, after Rukia was rescued at the conclusion of the first arc, a short period of peace acted as a bridge to the next arc. Nothing important occurred during this transition and the plot quickly moved on to the next arc as Orihime was kidnapped.

In general, Bleach could be more organized by adding more dialogue and thought as opposed to pure action. This would allow the manga to appeal to a larger audience as well as improve its overall quality. Furthermore, more time should be spent to allow the story to effectively flow between story arcs.

We think that Bleach moves quickly and is suitable for readers that enjoy combat scenes and many turning points. The realistic artwork does a good job of immersing us into the scenes of the battles and help convey various emotions during intense moments. Overall, we recommend Bleach, but it might not be for readers looking for a more slow-paced dialogue-centric manga.

Death Note: A Must Read

Imagine that you hold the ability to kill any person on earth simply by writing down their name. Would you use this ability to exterminate your worst enemies, rid the world of criminals and terrorists, or choose to avoid this dangerous power completely?
In Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note, Death Gods named Shinigamis possess notebooks called “Death Notes” which hold exactly this aforementioned killing power. Whoever’s name is written down in a Death Note will die within 40 seconds. When high school student Light Yagam, discovers a Death Note dropped by Shinigami Ryuk in the middle of the street, he is initially shocked by the concept presented by Ryuk, who brought the Death Note into the human world in search of entertainment. However, Light’s awe soon turns into excitement as he hatches a plan to rid evil from the world by killing notorious criminals with the Death Note. With his ingenious mind and the extraordinary power of the Death Note, Light initiates a criminal holocaust to make the world a safer place. Although Light’s intentions causes global crime rates to drop by seventy percent, governments are concerned about an anonymous killer who is taking the law into his or her own hands and try desperately to find the unknown mastermind. While investigations aim to bring down Light, governments around the world are unable to discover the killer themselves. That’s when L, a mysterious master detective, brings his remarkable reasoning skills and flawless service record to the case. A cat-and-mouse thriller between Light and L ensues.
Overall, Death Note could be considered one of the few brilliantly-plotted manga. The story moves very quickly from one plotline to the next and often incorporates side-plots to intensify encapsulating themes of danger, betrayal, and good versus evil. The book’s narrative structure also allows reader to see the story unfold from every character’s point of view. Generally, detective stories would be spoiled by this type of narrative approach, but that is not the case in Death Note. Though the reader follows the thoughts of both the protagonist and the antagonist, Ohba creatively filters these thoughts so that the plot still unfolds dramatically. Light only ever hints slightly at what his plans entail and L keeps most of his deductions and reasoning to himself.
            As Death Note progresses towards the halfway point, the story begins to fall victim to several over-complications. When more and more Death Notes begin appearing in the human world, the story begins to resemble those of other mediocre manga filled with coincidences and seemingly impossible events that the reader is not prepared for. At this point the plot definitely takes a turn for the worse in terms of suspense and ingenuity, and the reader is left to debate the benefits of continuing. 
            After a volume or two, Death Note does seem to pick up again, but with the advent of a slew of new complications and characters, the narration certainly needs to be enhanced for the story to continue making sense to the average reader. At times, rereading passages becomes a habit as the only way to follow the plot is to read it two or three times. However, the story does conclude with an intense and dramatic climax filled with everything characteristic of a traditional “nail-biter”. Death Note may seem confusing at times, but the story as a whole is worth getting lost in.
            The beautiful illustrations in Death Note are one of the highlights of the manga. They bring Death Note’s thrilling story to life through realistic depictions of the characters and backgrounds while reflecting the themes of the plot as well. One of the most amazing things to witness while reading the manga is Takeshi Obata’s, the artist, ability to bridge the worlds of reality and fantasy through his artwork. Although shinigami, with their ghastly faces and bodies, such as Ryuk have little resemblance to humans, they seem to blend in with the rest of the human world in Death Note. This is achieved by personifying these fantasy characters through realistic facial expressions and interactions between the shinigami and the real world. For example, nothing makes Ryuk seem more real than seeing his desperate face as he begs Light for an apple and then ravenously gobbles it down with great satisfaction.
            Obata creates through his illustrations an authentic Japan that the reader can almost step into and experience first-hand. Although Death Note takes place in a completely black-and-white world, the detailed backgrounds and objects make up for this lack of color. The level of detail seen in everyday things such as newspapers, computers, and the city of Kanto itself is almost enough to convince the reader that a Death Note could truly exist in the real world. The author uses sharp, defined lines to draw the characters and objects related to the plot while implementing rougher lines and more shading to depict the environment, background objects, and even clothing. Thus, the illustrations forces the reader to focus on aspects of the comic that are important to the story while still providing a realistic backdrop to the plot. Emanata are used sparingly, but effectively in Death Note. Small sweat beads to represent nervousness and quick lines radiating from a character to represent shock are examples of how Obata can depict emotions through graphic symbols in his artwork. Furthermore, the addition of verbs that represent sounds such as “crumple”, “slip”, and “rustle” combined with onomonatepia such as “screech” and “splat” allows the reader to not only experience the world of Death Note through sight but also through sound.
            Besides providing realism to the world of Death Note, Obata’ elegant drawings reinforces certain themes of the storyline. One of the themes that appears throughout Death Note is the battle between good and evil. This is represented by the contrast between black and white or dark and light in the illustrations. An example is when Light and L are shown facing each other after their first intellectual battle. While Light is completely drawn in white, L is heavily shaded. This pushes the reader to believe that what Light is trying to accomplish is good, while L, the antagonist, is evil. Furthermore, Ryuk’s deep black clothing reminds us throughout the manga that in the beginning he did say to Light, “When you die… I’ll be writing your name in my note-book.”
            In conclusion, Death Note is a beautifully-drawn manga with a unique and original plotline that will have you constantly on the edge of your seat, awaiting the next move in the intellectual battle between L and Light. Although this is a shonen manga targeted towards adolescent males, Death Note’s complex plot often seems more suitable for adults. The mangas resembles an intricately woven web due to Light and L’s constantly intertwining plans. However, at some points the web just becomes too thick and it almost seems impossible to follow the plot threads. Despite this, Death Note’s realistic illustrations and thrilling plotline makes it a series that every manga and detective story fan should investigate.

Works Cited
Ohba, Tsugumi, writer and artist. Death Note. Eng. adapt. by Trans. Masterkeaton. San Francisco: Viz, 2003. Electronic. Chapter 1.

Eric Huang

Michael Teng
Jack Shi
Justin Feng

House is the New Black: A Black Jack Review

The works of legendary mangaka Osamu Tezuka rarely go without praise, and his thrilling foray into the medical world with Black Jack is no exception. Tezuka is most known for inventing the modern ‘manga’ style, with his iconic serial Astro Boy. With his important contributions to Japenese animation and cartoon culture, he is commonly called the “Walt Disney of the East.” Tezuka draws from multiple sources for his manga titles, and heavily leans on his college degree in medicine to create the stories in Black Jack. The tales are written in the format of a series of short escapades. Each tale follows the protagonist, known to the world as the infamous unlicensed surgeon Black Jack, as he saves his patients from the unforgiving ailments that no other doctor could possibly tackle. Sporting a full black outfit and an ice cold countenance, his reputation could only be described as notorious; few people are appreciative of his extraordinary fees and condescending personality. Yet below the surface lies a warmer side of good morals, a savior whose work could only be diminished by the work of god.

The first volume begins with offering a perspective on the way Black Jack is regarded as a person, describing the events of the son of a wealthy business man whose reckless driving results in a catastrophic accident and admittance to a hospital. The son, being in critical condition, is in such a hopeless state that his wealthy father brings in Black Jack to save his beloved son. The story continues to explain how an innocent bystander who happened to witness the event was sentenced to death under the influence of the wealthy business man in order for Black Jack to be able to use the bystander’s body to save the real culprit behind the crash. This seemingly follows the general disregard for morals and values that people associate Black Jack with. Nonetheless, as the first story ends, we realize that Black Jack in fact switched the skin of the patient with the body of the innocent person, therefore allowing the innocent person to live and dealing the deserved justice to the guilty, wealthy man. More or less, the story of Black Jack develops as a series of these short, approximately 20 page stories with each one depicting a new medical miracle that Black Jack is called upon to perform. In the end, we learn many intriguing aspects of Black Jack as a person as well as his brilliant surgical techniques. In the end, each story serves as a moral lesson and the reader is left with the inspiring feeling that ensues after learning the way a seemingly dark character is able to shed light on the world.

Although Black Jack contains somewhat unrealistic feats of medical science, this does not deter the story from conveying a certain moral message. In the typical manga, readers enjoy the fighting and action such as in Naruto. In other words, people enjoy the climax of every chapter the most as expected in any reading. However, we believe that the most entertaining parts of each chapter were not from how Black Jack is able to save all of those patients. The beauty of each chapter is derived from the message that can be taken away at the end of every tale, while the action and suspense are still included in the mix.

It seems like the only flaw to this storyline itself is the incorporation of an irritating young side-kick. Ever since being transformed into a real human, Pinoko has only annoyed Black Jack in every subsequent adventure. We question her actual worth as an assistant as well as her intellect as a supposed eighteen year old. Although she looks like a three year old, her desire to be Black Jack’s wife and her absurd comments that convey this only detour the storyline from the medical mysteries and miracles that the reader is looking for. Simply put, we feel her creation was a mistake on Tezuka’s part.

Perhaps time is the only nemesis of Tezuka’s work. While his masterful storytelling and composition is arguably timeless, his art can only fall to the wayside as manga evolves through the years. While modern mangakas have slowly developed a unique art style in Japanese manga, Tezuka was known to have been highly influenced by early American cartoons, specifically those of Disney. Tezuka’s character design, such as the use of large eyes, is said to have led to the development of modern manga art styles, but a current manga enthusiast may be put off by Tezuka’s decades old art. Many may find it un-Japanese due to its similarity to early American cartoons rather than the modern manga style they are used to seeing, while others may find it simply overly childish and disorganized.
Furthermore, readers should be advised of the lengths to which Tezuka takes the premise of Black Jack’s profession. Tezuka enthusiastically portrays most of Jack’s cases in all their blood and gore filled glory: he is not afraid to depict the severed limbs and internal organs his gruesome operation scenes. These graphic sequences parallel those of gory horror comics, and may be nauseating for the light hearted.

After reading through the first volumes of Black Jack, we noticed multiple trends that we enjoyed and few unfavorable aspects of the manga. What really drew us in was how the individual stories grew to depict Black Jack as a very moral and thoughtful character, while still being thrilling enough to warrant further reading. While the art style and the persistent Pinoko may be distasteful to some, these are but nitpicks for another masterpiece deserving of Tezuka’s name. We definitely consider Black Jack a “must read” for anyone truly interested in manga, due to the impact that it and its creator had on the Japanese visual culture.

MW: A Children’s Comic for Adults

And we mean it. If this graphic novel was a movie (and it has been turned into one), it should be rated XXX. The story takes place in Japan in 1976, a time of global conflict and political tension. 15 years earlier, Michio Yuki, the main character, finds himself trapped on a small island with a teenage bully who would later become a Catholic Priest, Father Gerai. Gerai corners young Yuki in a cave and takes advantage of him, initiating a homosexual relationship between the two that continues throughout the book. MW, a poisonous gas created to inflict damage upon Laos and Vietnam, has accidentally been released onto the island, killing all of its inhabitants but sparing Yuki and Gerai. As the two realize that they are the sole survivors of this tragedy and prepare to leave the island, the gas affects Yuki, leaving him alive but robbing him of his conscience and moral compass. Gerai begins to feel responsible for the damage Yuki endures and vows to help him recover and gain back his morality, becoming his sole ally as the story progresses. The MW accident is covered up by the military, and the public never learns the truth about what happened. Fast forward to 1976, where Yuki has become an amoral serial killer, kidnapping and slaughtering innocent citizens and evading punishment by hiding in Gerai’s church while maintaining his low-profile job at a bank downtown. Without a conscience, he commits graphic atrocities without any remorse. He seeks vengeance on those involved with the MW incident, taking whatever extreme actions are necessary to get closer and closer to the truth; he disguises himself as the opposite gender, tortures, rapes, and murders those who stand in his way, and manipulates Gerai into becoming his accomplice. Through MW, Tekuza explores dark, adult themes unlike those found in any of his other books.

It’s hard to image such a dark piece of work came from Japanese mangaka Osamu Tezuka. Throughout all of his works, the genres are very diverse. One can easily observe this by looking at Astro Boy. This famous and beloved superhero tale comes nowhere near the violent and shocking nature of MW. Nevertheless, Osamu Tezuka has been a very influential figure throughout the Manga universe. After all, he was the founder of the very distinctive large eye style. He had received most of his early influence and creativity from his mother and the world around him. When he was very young, she told her son to use the surrounding skies as a source of ideas. However, the influence of his artistic style came from the very popular animation of his youth. This included cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop. Tezuka’s manner of drawing can be vividly recognized regardless of which work a person looks at. His general, unique way of drawing a person creates a very cartoon-like and unreal perception by the viewer. If one were to look at the overall artistic style of Astro Boy, they would clearly and quickly see that all of the characters have very cartoon-like features. However, the different style of MW allows for the characters to look less like cartoons and more like people. This greatly helps make the story, as a whole, a more thrilling and believable experience.

By “thrilling” we mean “borderline disturbing.” In two volumes, Tezuka-sensei brings up many controversial topics that still exist in the world today: kidnapping, murder, rape, bio-weapons and their development, church versus state, bestiality, sociopathic behavior and human nature. The blunt manner these topics are brought up within the book makes one think more than twice. The story starts out with a kidnapping, which leads immediately to murder followed by more murder, rape, and bloody carnage. Perhaps it’s us as westerners that are more sensitive to rated R material, but it’s more likely this is the inner mind of Tezuka questioning our own moral standards. Are we able to sympathize with the obviously insane serial killer Yuki because of his past? Or Father Gerai for his decision between religious duty and the law? Do we fully grasp the devastating results of bio-warfare and the hundreds of lives lost? How do we determine right from wrong in a world where everything is shades of grey? And can sociopathic behavior be justified? Wherever our personal opinion lies, we cannot deny this cold reflection of history and the implications that inhabit Osamu Tezuka’s world of MW.

Despite the disturbing storyline, devilish characters, and morally unstable plot, we still recommend this book. Why? Not because it’s “life changing”, or “created by a famous mangaka” – but because the four of use can’t tell you what you like. So go ahead and pick up a copy of MW. Take it for what it’s worth.

David Chatman
Katie Kramer
Rafael Rodriguez
Claire Zhang

Full Metal Alchemist by Himoru Arakawa: A Review

Full Metal Alchemist (FMA) focuses on two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who lost their mother to a rare illness and are unable to contact their father who's been away. To fill this void in their lives, the boys attempt the most forbidden of alchemic crafts: Human Transmutation. Their failed attempt left Edward with only two limbs and his brother's soul bound to a suit of armor. Becoming agents of the government, slaves of the military-alchemical complex, they use their unique powers to obey their orders, but also to find a way to restore their bodies. They hear news of and are determined to find the Philosopher’s Stone, the only way they can get their bodies back, but others are also searching for the stone and will do anything to get its power.

In the first volume, Edward and Alphonse’s exploits range from thwarting the machinations of a fraudulent and ambitious priest who abuses the faith of his oblivious town to cunningly extracting an impoverished mining community from the exorbitant clutches of an oppressive official and dealing with a train-hijack situation. The second volume teaches us of the many types of alchemy in the world. Edward's commanding officer, "Flame Alchemist" Roy Mustang, can control fire. Mustang introduces the brothers to Shou Tucker, the "Sewing-Life Alchemist," who specializes in the most difficult alchemy of all biological transmutation, the ability to alter the tissue of living things. Shou invites the boys to use his library, and soon they spend long days at the house studying and playing with Nina, Shou’s daughter, and his dog. As the days pass by, the Elric brothers are ignorant of the pressure mounting on the researcher. With his assessment is coming up, and his position as state alchemist on the line, Tucker desperately transmutes his daughter and dog to create his findings, similar to what he did in the past with his wife.

As Edward broods over Nina’s fate and the meaning of alchemy, a new menace makes an appearance. A murderer, known only as “Scar” for the x-shaped mark on his face, is targeting state alchemists and brutally slaughtering them. During a run-in with the ruthless killer, both Ed and Al are damaged, and rendered unable to resist his attack. To save his little brother, Edward is on the verge of submitting to Scar’s assault in exchange for Al’s life. Right in time, however, Mustang and his troops arrive to save the day. During this ensuing tirade by Scar, we learn that he believes he is an instrument of God, and he deals divine judgment to unholy alchemists. In addition, he’s a member of a persecuted race that the government tried to systematically wipe from the face of the earth. The action lets up as Ed, Al, and Major Armstrong head to repair the damage caused by Scar. They realize that no matter their power, alchemists are still human. When a mysterious killer starts stalking state alchemists, no one can escape his vengeance.

The theme of the comic was established by the quote found on the first page of the first volume: “One that does not sacrifice anything cannot achieve anything.” This quote stands out through its demonstration of the author’s main idea of the book, recurring throughout the first two volumes. The theme is that the idea of alchemy, unlike magic, follows the law of even trade. This theme was seen immediately as the Manga started. Due to their attempts with human transmutation, Edward and Alphonse both paid dearly, one losing an arm and a leg; the other became a soul locked into a body of living iron. Edward becomes a State Alchemist, referred to as “a dog of the military”, in order to use the extensive resources available, such as replacing his missing limbs with automail.

Other characters apart from the brothers also experience this law, such as Shou Tucker, the Life-Binding Alchemist. He sacrifices his family and ethics in order to achieve in his research. This theme contributes to the overall work by sending a message or moral to the readers as there is no argument in this series. The theme’s lack of subtlety, as one clearly sees it on the first page of the series, along with its frequency and continuity in the volumes makes it effectively unforgettable and perceptible to all readers.

Arakawa undertakes an open narrative style in this series as the reader is omniscient, as well as many of the characters. He includes great battles, clever twists, interlocking plotlines, and memorable characters that will stand up for what they believe in, whether good or bad. These volumes provided a satisfying balance of all those elements, and do it in a style that is visually exciting while still being easy for the eyes to follow. Whether it involves an all-out brawl, an urban gunfight, or some careful sneaking through the underground, the events in this series continue to move with forward momentum—a momentum that will ultimately lead to the group branded by the symbol. The game is in full swing and the final goal is in clear sight, but how our heroes are going to get there is anyone's guess.

As for visual elements, the style of Fullmetal Alchemist is semi-realistic and detailed. While no one could mistake the drawings for real-life pictures, we see shading, three-dimensional images (well, two-dimensional images with depth), strands of hair, and shadows. Sometimes, to better depict emotions, the comics switched to a very simple style. The flat, outlined, basic drawings contrasted sharply with the rest of the panels and served well to send a message that is difficult to put into words. In our opinion, the simpler drawings portrayed emotions and ideas more effectively than detailed drawings because the reader could relate to the images easily. As Scott McCloud noted, an undescriptive character can relate to a larger audience. These “breaks” from the typical drawing style provided comic relief and helped us relate to the characters.

We also noted a lack of focus on scenery. We are always given a general idea of the setting, but most of the panels do not have a background as a realistic-style comic might. Instead, the characters are usually surrounded by shading, representing the lighting. Close-ups of the characters’ faces and interactions allow more of a focus on the plot rather than specifics about location. We liked this technique because, with fewer details, the comic was fast paced. Sometimes, if a graphic novel is too detailed or too realistic, the reader becomes overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information to take in. The use of symbols to portray emotions is an element of Manga implemented in this comic that we really liked. Flowers represented cuteness or sentimentality; water drops depicted sweat, exasperation, or exertion of effort; little clouds showed panting, sighing, or heavy breaths; four-pointed stars showed up around a person who was feeling confident or proud of themselves; and little hearts appeared at the ends of speech bubbles when Edward Elric was being particularly sarcastic or cheeky. These small indications help us understand how a character is feeling or being influenced in addition to the typical clues presented by facial expression, etc.

Yet another visual element is the use of runes and symbols for alchemy, each alchemist with their own. The Elric brothers have a symbol that appears on Edward’s clothes and Al’s armor that looks like a cross fused with a question mark topped with a crown and wings, and Colonel Roy Mustang, the “Flame Alchemist,” has a symbol of triangles, a salamander, and fire encircled by a double ring on his gloves. These symbols are really cool because they give each of the main characters a crest that reflects who they are. For example, the Elric brothers are on a quest to find the truth about the philosopher’s stone in an attempt to regain their bodies, so their emblem resembles a question mark.

Graphically, FMA is not exactly stunning, but it is original and expressive. Arakawa has a gift for showing movement, with very subtle motions coming across just as easily as massive fight scenes. The characters' facial expressions are not to be missed either, with Edward having some of the funniest reactions whenever somebody mentions his short height. But what really earns FMA its place as a famous Manga is the story.

FMA's story is, to put it bluntly, one of the most engaging and well thought out that you can read. The reader can easily connect and sympathize with the Elric brothers. The first volume may seem a little formulaic, but don’t let that fool you. The story quickly goes through a series of twists and turns that will leave you aching for the next volume to see what happens. Arakawa's story telling is equaled only be his characters. There are no two dimensional characters in these pages. Everyone has a range of complex emotions, hidden feelings and ulterior motives. Edward and his younger brother Alphonse are mentally and physically unlike most early teens – both have uncanny statures and dabble in alchemy. While Al’s alchemy skill isn’t quite as good as Ed’s, he makes up for it with his attitude. Unlike his emotionally unstable brother, Al is the voice of reason that keeps everything in check. Together the two brothers make an unstoppable duo.

If that’s not enough, there are some fun extras at the end of every volume. A few short comics, notes from the author and a sometimes tasteless, but still funny "In Memoriam" for any characters that died in that volume. All this wrapped together in a wonderful package that any fan of great stories, Manga or not, should have on their shelf.

Full Metal Alchemist (Volumes I & II):

Publisher: Bandai

Price: 19.96 for both books together (9.99 each)

Review By: Sumana Vardhan, Cindy Angpraseuth, Bobby Baginski, & Luke Nayak

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Travel Review

Travel Review

We begin Yokoyama’s Travel as three men stand in a deserted station, ticket in hand, waiting for their train. A shining silver bullet zooms past, and the doors open; the men board. As the train picks up speed, the men begin to walk the length of the train, looking for seats. They pass a multitude of different seating and people, ranging from rows upon rows of military-type men to pairs of empty seats in front of large windows. While they’re walking, they pass many people, some of which who watch the men with interest. They pass men in a meeting, two people sleeping, a woman sitting alone, and a man reading a newspaper depicting scenes of disaster and catastrophe as they walk through the train. Eventually, the three men find an empty compartment and sit down. At various points through their voyage, they look out the windows of the train. The sky varies from overcast to cloudy with beams of sunlight shining through, foreshadowing a rain storm to come. The train passes strange-looking landscapes, such as a mountain with a boulder at the very top. As the countryside rattles by, the train comes into a more urban area, filled with odd houses and buildings. However, it seems as though every building is deserted, and soon the train passes out of the village and back into the countryside. Another train passes by, filled with passengers, and the sky darkens.

A light rain begins and slowly gets heavier until the landscape through the windows become distorted. Soon it is storming and the sound is overwhelming for the three passengers. After witnessing lightning, the weather begins to clear and the passengers look through the window to see a gorgeous glistening lake. As they come to a stop near the lake, the passengers watch as military personnel exit the train and the station and as two new passengers enter the train and into the car that the three original passengers are sitting. The train continues to travel next to lakes and eventually enters a mountainous area, where they pass a waterfall, cross a dam, and journey through cliffy canyons. One of the original passengers closely observes one of the new passengers in their train car until the new passenger notices. Two of the original passengers smoke the cigarettes that were purchased at the beginning of the story. As the train travels through the mountains, they pass wild animals along with hunters and hikers.

After they pass through this mountainous region, they soon arrive at a train station and go through an urban area. They pass many apartment complexes, skyscrapers and a very busy highway. Our characters then pass through a densely packed mall and go up a ramp to join several other large trains. Just before stopping at another station our travelers see many railroads and various turns for each train to go. This station is much larger than the previous one; they arrive between platforms 19 and 20 with dozens of escalators leading up to the upper deck where there are people watching the trains arrive. One of our characters puts his book away and exits the train at this station and watches all of the new faces depart with the train. The train departs and passes through another highway as well as several cranes while there are about half a dozen trains flying by. They go by some painters and see a helicopter landing on a roof of a building near them. We arrive at another station and our characters exit the train and proceed to go to the upper level. Our original travelers walk through a nice little forest with a path in the middle to end up at a nice little body of water which seems to be their final destination.

In Travel, everyday occurrences are made to seem exciting and intense. This is so the reader’s attention is focused on the excitement of travelling as opposed to the usual interests such as destination and scenery. The reader finds themselves engaged in the vehicle’s architecture and odd looking passengers. Yokoyama’s art style allows for this. Also, the overuse of speed lines and odd shapes let the reader, for some reason, become more interested in the common events that happen in our own world more than the exciting, imaginary world he has created outside of the train. For example, Yokoyama gives multiple views of every action, and uses speed lines to intensify events such as a raindrops falling from the sky or lighting a cigarette. It is odd that the attractions should be the ordinary rather than the imaginary.

Throughout the novel, various themes are present as the protagonists travel on the train. Three major themes of in the story were the weather, architecture, and people, which help the readers put themselves in the story. During the journey, the weather continually changes from harsh winds to torrential rain. As a reader, I can picture myself sitting on the train and looking out the window and experiencing the weather. When reading the book, you can imagine hearing the sound of the rain as it hits the window and the howling of the wind. Furthermore, Yokoyama includes various types of Japanese architecture. The uniqueness of the buildings and sculptures helps us place ourselves in the setting of Japan and visualize the depth and width of the scenery. Lastly, the people that the protagonists encounter is one of the strongest themes that easily place the reader in the scene. Yokoyama distinguishes the supporting characters with one specific characteristic. The man with the sparkling eyes and the man with the book are examples of people who stand out in the novel. When we travel places, we notice people along our journey and usually what makes them stand out is a certain aspect. All in all, Yokoyama uses these themes to help the readers identify with the protagonists and picture themselves on train.

The artistic style employed by Yokoyama in Travel is one of extreme simplification. Most objects are so simplified, that they become abstractions and at some times are unrecognizable. For example, the faces of the people on the train are so simplified that there is absolutely no emotion visible, and the characters become almost indistinguishable. One review by Publishers Weekly states “Everything and everyone is abstracted until nothing is left but a few identifying features; some sequences, as when the train passes through a rain shower, are almost pure pattern.” This level of abstraction results in a very aesthetically interesting novel, as a significant portion of the reader’s time is spent trying to figure out what is going on. Another major point of Yokoyama’s drawing style is his employment of motion lines. He doesn’t specifically try to blend the motion into smooth transitions; instead, he uses jarring, hard lines to indicate motion.

As a Western reader, even after familiarizing yourself with style of the book and the fact that, staying true to Japanese style, one must read each page from right to left instead of the traditional Western left to right, the story stills seems confusing. It’s almost as if we’ve missed something along the way. Maybe it’s because we are not used to being content in the travel of life and are merely focused on our destination, but reading a story about riding on a train leaves us feeling a bit empty and simply saying “So what?” If you are reader looking for a challenge in comprehension, looking to slow down in life and enjoy the simplicities, or merely looking to try a new style of reading, then Travel is the book for you. Otherwise, I’d avoid it completely.

Works Cited

Publishers Weekly. Yuichi Yokoyama: Travel”. November 2008.

By: Brittney Hanson, Brian Page, Lydia Matthews, Molly Pachay, Elson Yu, Lizz Knowlton, Amber Farrell