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Today We Sail to the Exotic Nation of Japan: Jog travels between 8/1 extremes.

Joe McCulloch

Well, I said I’d have more than one review this time. Didn’t say it’d all be comics. It’s sort of all comics-related, right? Also, I bought the new issue of Otaku USA (my anime review came from its free sampler dvd) at a bookstore this week, so it counts as 8/1 on Planet Jog, although I think it got put out a week early. Anyhow.

Mushishi Vol. 2: Not a quick release here. Mushishi is a popular manga in Japan, a fan-favorite that’s spawned a beloved anime series (and a less-beloved live-action film), but Del Rey has seen fit to bump its English-language release back to a twice-yearly schedule, which probably isn’t a good sign financially.

Too bad, because Mushishi is an often superb comic, each volume stuffed with five standalone tales of Ginko, a Mushishi, a wandering, cigarette-puffing magician/doctor/shaman, seemingly stepped out of a forgotten Hayao Miyazaki guest issue of Hellblazer. Ginko can manipulate Mushi, tiny organisms that embody primal attributes of the natural world and tend to affect human moods and perceptions.

Of course, Mushi really serve as a means for writer/artist Yuki Urushibara to craft exquisite little stories of, say, Mushi as an extended metaphor for human wanderlust – Ginko encounters a man chasing Mushi rainbows, and torn between following his irresponsible father, or following dad’s wishes to be a grounded person. Symbolic images of flowing rivers and dams abound. Ginko also gets caught up in the case of a fellow Mushishi, a man like a god who’s weakened by human foibles, plus a mysterious girl who lives and dies every day, and a family desperate to love the doppelganger Mushi children that killed their real son.

The very best story sees a young woman driving out the deadly Mushi inside her by transcribing tales of the Mushishi, literally transforming her sickness into living words, plucked off her skin and out of the air. But all the tales are of heroes vanquishing evil, until Ginko promotes a harmonious style, which benefits girl and ‘sickness,’ and provides a hugely inspired parable of counternarratives sapping human fear of the Other. EXCELLENT work, popular manga loaded with mythic and literary heft, and I absolutely recommend it.

Witchblade (the anime) Episode 3: Horrible. Anime studio GONZO put out 24 episodes of this in 2006, and pretty soon it’ll be slithering onto R1 dvd. Maybe the new Otaku USA dvd just had an especially bad episode, but it was such a dreadful, pandering mess that I doubt any amount of backstory could redeem it.

The story is original to the anime (which isn’t to say it’s original). Endearingly clumsy anime character type Masane and her comically large boobsock-hugged breasts are just trying to get by in post-cataclysm Tokyo, while raising a helpless, mysterious little girl of the type that must appear in 65% of all yearly anime or someone gets fined.

But Masane is also the current bearer of the Witchblade, which turns her into a lip-smacking wanton for violence (sex), her thong vanished so deeply between her cheeks the animators are content simply to draw a bare ass. Confronted with a menacing tank, she murmurs “come… you big thing… I feel you…” before slicing off the machine’s phallic gun in a splash of goopy white stuff, which I’m sure is completely different from semen. Female empowerment, but still pleasureful for men! There are two such skeevy fight scenes this episode, executed in a swift, cost-effective manner. The rest of it is minute after grueling minute of the most banal Bubblegum Crisis knockoff corporate intrigue imaginable, capped with some unbelievably pandering I-LOVE-my-child!! sentimentality. It’s a celebration of maternity! Hooray!

I’m forced to wonder if, for some Japanese audiences, this sort of thing really is an encapsulation of what contemporary American superheroine comics are. Like, this is the image we project, and what another culture deems ‘correct’ to beam back. But then, I’m probably thinking too hard about a stupid cartoon designed for sad men to watch with their pants off. CRAP.

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