Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Comics shopping in Tokyo: April 2013

Well, I gave it a try.  As soon as I hit Tokyo, I went to Monster in Ebisu.  They had a very few new comics, some back issues that were all from this year and a small selection of graphic novels and trade collections.  Despite not finding a huge wall of comics, I still managed to spend 8,100 yen.  I bought as many Boom! Studios Peanuts as I could find-- Peppermint Patty in dress?-- plus the second and third issues of Marvel's Fearless Defenders and two issues of Dark Horse's new Star Wars ongoing, along with some other books I probably never would have bought save for desperation.  Monster has some 200 yen issues, but most comics will cost you between 420-480 yen or so.  That's nothing unusual for Japan.

Monster was a very cool shop to hang out in even if the comic book selection was pretty slender.  It's easy to find, only a minute or so from Ebisu station-- right on the Yamanote Line, so there's no chance of getting lost-- and the store is absolutely jam-packed with superhero and movie toys.  They seem to specialize in Star Wars but they had a lot of DC and Marvel action figures and statues, plus all kinds of other neat little items.  This stuff isn't cheap, but Monster is worth a stop if you're jonesing for little Luke Skywalkers (or that mega-expensive two-figure 1/6th scale Bespin Luke from Hot Toys; he was in stock), die cast metal Batmobiles or plastic figures of Wonder Woman in her new costume.  Or if you just like looking at such things.  I was hoping they might have the new Dani Moonstar action figure, and while they did have others from that series (with her picture on the back of the package), she was nowhere to be found.  Heartbreaking!

The customers were nice, a mixed crowd of young men and women, some parents and their little kids browsing and having pop culture fun.  I also found the staff very pleasant.  Big smiles and arigato gozaimashitas to seal the deal.  I had a great time there, and I can't say I was disappointed not to find a massive selection of new and old comics.  I didn't have much expectation of that in the first place.  Still, I'll be making regular visits to Monster when I go to Tokyo.  It beats hauling my butt all the way to Akihabara to see the same things, plus there are a lot of intriguing restaurants on the same street.

With Blister closed for the weekend, my only other choice was to find Manga No Mori in Ikebukuro.  This proved an exercise in frustration.  I finally located its former location, which is now a K-Books Men's.  They sell those plastic statues and artwork of cutie-pie nearly-nekkid anime/manga girls.  Kind of ironic, when one of the draws of Manga No Mori was its reputation for catering to female customers.  I didn't expect to find any Cass there-- another shot in the dark-- but I had hoped to find the store at least.  Since I'm not into the kind of stuff they sell, I didn't linger at K-Books Men's.

Speaking of catering to female comic customers, visiting the huge Animate in Ikebukuro was a highlight.  First of all, just look at it!

That is one mammoth slab of comic book fun.  Are there comic book shops this large in the United States?  I tend to doubt it, and I doubt if there were they'd be as crowded as Ikebukuro's Animate shop.  Just the line for the elevator made it seem like an amusement park attraction.  I opted for the steps.

I didn't take any photos inside because I thought it would be rude, but there were plenty of people inside who had no qualms about snapping away.  Now I'm thinking it was a missed opportunity.  I mean, this place was just bustling and the lines for the cash registers on each floor made looking at merchandise difficult, like trying to watch a baseball game through a wooden fence.

And yes, most of the customers-- but not all-- were women and girls.  A very bright, cheerful environment and as many comics about boys kissing boys as you could read in a lifetime.  All in Japanese, of course.  There is a floor for guy comics, too.  And a section with manga-making supplies like paper, pencils, all kinds of ink pens, comic-making computer programs, color markers and more.

I'd read many times about Otome Road, the girly version of Akihabara.  Having experienced the dude side in Akiba a few times, I was curious to see how the other half lives.  Well, I must be an idiot because I couldn't find it.  Others who are smarter than I am have had better luck and you can read about their happier experiences elsewhere.  I'm more than a little disappointed I didn't get to visit any cosplay shops there, but if you look at my last photo you can see a brown van parked just in front of the main entrance of Animate.  That's for buying food and the young women running it might have been cosplayers.  I saw some startlingly white hair.  Just down the street was a small park with its own festival in progress.

There I definitely saw some cosplayers.  They were having a photo session.  I strolled by just to check them out.  So I suppose my story has a happy ending after all.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On the mechanics of anime illustration - The Japan Times

On the mechanics of anime illustration - The Japan Times

Japan has to be the top comic/animation loving nation in the world.  I have no statistics to back this up.  For all I know, it may actually be China or South Korea or even France.  But I do know comics and animation are mainstreamed here in Japan in ways denied by audiences in my native US, despite the media's discovery every three or four years that "BAM!  POW!  Comics aren't just for kids anymore!" and libraries stocking graphic novels.

Publishers of super grown-up type books like Penguin Group (USA) occasionally take initiatives to broaden the appeal of comics.  And so do publishers like Scholastic for younger readers.  They offer comic books through their ingeniously titled graphic novel divisions or imprints.  And remember DC's late, lamented Minx line?  They advertised in teen fashion catalogs, which probably seemed like a great idea at the time.  Graphic novels and comics-- especially the monthly ones-- still tend to be a niche product, with a shelf or two of the most obvious titles at what few brick-and-mortar bookstores that remain in your malls and shopping centers.  People will watch uneven TV shows and go by the millions to craptacular movies based on them, but publishers have to push the idea that comics can be about anything and read by anyone.  They make huge noise whenever they do, and their best intentions still don't always pan out.

While here in Japan, almost every bookstore you go to has huge comic book sections with a wide range of genre titles available.

Anyway, this rant comes inspired by the Japan Times, which ran the story linked way up top there about a museum exhibition of the works of Kunio Okawara, who designed giant robots for Mobile Suit Gundam and created a phenomenon.  While I don't know a whole lot about his career, even a cursory glance at Japan reveals his pervasive influence.  The news article catalogs some of it briefly, and it's breath-taking.  I'd say a lot of what we Americans think about Japanese pop culture is a result of Okawara's work even if we've never actually laid eyes on a Gundam model kit.  If you've ever watched that South Park where they satirize Pokemon or that one The Simpsons where they watch Battling Seizure Robots or the other one where they go to the Totally Sick, Twisted, F***ed-Up Animation Festival, then you've been exposed to Okawara in some small way.

What does any of this have to do with graphic novel imprints?  Eh, probably nothing.  I just wanted to show you how what in the US is considered entertainment for a specific audience is mass entertainment in Japan.  Not that everyone here sits around building Gundam models-- although a character SMAP star Shingo Katori plays on a recent TV drama does in his free time, when he's not talking to his beautiful ghost roommate (and even when he is)-- or reading comics, but in Japan, you're just much more likely to see a train load of teen girls into comics US publishers find so elusive, or run into the middle aged dude who spends a lot of money on plastic toys and isn't considered a weirdo.  It's still not cool to achieve the status of otaku, but you can indulge your geek-tooth without having to explain to people this stuff is for grown-ups, too.

And that suits me just fine.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Monster in Ebisu! (Don't worry-- it's only a toy store with American comics)

Okay, for the longest time I've been claiming Blister in Nihonbashi was the only place to get American comics in Tokyo.  By comics I mean the newest monthly issues, not the trades; tons of those can be had at Tower Records (Shibuya) and Kinokuniya (various, but Shinjuku is probably the one you want).  I'm happy to say I was (more than likely) wrong about that.  I have to go to Tokyo for some official business this weekend and since Blister is closed the days I'll be there, I started doing some Internet searches for other possible sources for four-color amusements of the super-caped-heroic kind.  Or possibly the Hellboy-ish.

To get to the point, I found a nice blog by someone named Filipo who apparently lives in Japan and collects comics.  Filipo missed a chance at Blister (the dreaded orange wall of closure gives me the willies), but found a place called Monster, located in Ebisu.  Monster is mostly a toy shop but they have a small selection of American comics.  Actually, from Filipo's description, Monster seems pretty much like Blister.  Maybe not as ambitious as the original Blister, which was freakin' geek paradise and a must-stop for those tripping through Japan with comic book print running in their veins instead of blood.  But still Blister-esque as far as the current incarnation of Blister goes.

I'd been planning to keep things simple-- I would have been satisfied with finding Manga no Mori in Ikebukuro-- because this is really a business trip, but now I'm going to have to stop at Ebisu and find Monster just to see if it's worth making it a regular destination.