About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Excuses, excuses... and manga (Toradora vol. 2)

Most of what I'm reading is the middle of things, so the past tense of my blog name more or less rules out reporting on it. I did also commit the folly of buying a book last night and starting it before going to sleep. It's Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham. I never heard of him before last night, but I found the contents immediately informative. It's from 1993, part of a series called Elements of Fiction Writing. If you're like me, you've seen the shreds of various such series drifting about used book stores. I don't like to buy them, but I do anyway, when I feel they answer my questions. I have been struggling lately with just the sort of problems Bickham addresses, and reading only two chapters got me working on a new angle on my book.

I'm still reading (and close to finishing) the very entertaining and disappointing fantasy novel the Magicians, by Lev Grossman. It's not the novel that disappoints - it's the main character. I decided that I really don't like Quentin, and I hope he gets his ass kicked a bit more. Actually, based on what's happened in the book so far, I think the last 50 pages of the book will be very painful for him, and for me, because as much as I dislike him, I identify with him.

Work is keeping me busy as well. We just acquired another publisher in our niche, and are reviewing all of its materials in detail. We need to work all of the series - both existing stock and revisions - into our catalog and into our development calendar. In the end, I think we'll be working them into our philosophy as well. They pose a number of challenges, about reading level, about interest, about trends, and about the value inherent in the act of reading (as opposed to the content one reads). Much promise to fulfill, and much work to do.

I meant to review the hi-freakin-larious manga Toradora (story by Takemiya Yuyuko, art by Zekkyo), having just finished the second volume. The tone has changed since the first volume. There's plenty of silliness, thank goodness, but a serious consequence of the two main characters' actions in vol. 1 has arisen. The action has been replaced a little by dialogue, reflecting the change from character establishment in vol. 1 (much based on physical characteristics) to relationship building in vol. 2, which requires talking.

The setup is unoriginal for manga. There are several current or recent series with all or most of these elements. A student who looks different from the norm is treated as if his or her personality matches appearance. In this case, Takasu Ryuuji has "angry eyes," and everyone thinks he looks like a yakuza. (It doesn't help that his late father was yakuza). Ryuuji is actually a very nice guy. He lives with his inept and childlike mother (this is a theme in manga: get rid of the parents), doing the cooking and cleaning for the household, even hassling her about taking off her makeup before going to bed at night, and heating up the food he leaves for her instead of eating it cold. However, when he walks to school, people spread rumors about violent exploits and a terrible temper. It's so unfair! (another manga theme).

On the first day of school (exactly 78% of manga start then), Ryuuji runs afoul of Aisaka Taiga, a petite girl with an even more violent reputation, which she partly deserves. (Whatever her nickname is in Japanese, in the Macmillan translation, it's "Palmtop Tiger." Silly, and fitting.) However, the two soon discover they are neighbors, and that few other people will talk with them, so they develop a weird friendship that provides most of the humor from vol. 1.

The humor is raised a notch by the fact that each of them has one friend. Taiga's is the girl Ryuuji desperately loves, and can't form words around, and Ryuuji's is the boy Taiga even more desperately loves (himself a manga theme: the competent nerd). The two of them, in turn, are good friends and co-captains (another manga theme: weak plot movers) of the softball team, requiring them to bail on almost all occasions in which the four of them might socialize. This leaves Taiga and Ryuuji even more dependent on each other.

Macmillan's subdivision Seven Seas Manga picked this up, and did a nice job with the tankoubon (usually a 6-8 chapter volume) releases. The covers are appropriately shiny and keep the original design (a plus for manga fans who rely on translations), and the printing is crisp and well laid out. Many manga and comics are printed over the gutter or trimmed too far out on one side of the sheet, cutting off text and pictures. Macmillan are pros, and the difference in quality makes this a lot more fun to read. The series itself has no redeeming social value, shows pictures of teenage girls in impossibly short skirts, and makes fun of people for how they look. What's not to like?

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