Manga Monday: AX

Ax: A Collection of Alternative Manga (Volume 1) GN
Edited by Sean Michael Wilson

Ax is an alternative manga magazine in Japan, a kind of go-to for exciting creators.  This new anthology from Top Shelf collects a sampling of stories that have been published in Ax since its debut in 1998.  As with most anthologies, I found myself drawn to some stories, while left cold to others, but you can't argue that this isn't a great showcase for some really great comics.  33 manga artists are sampled here, with biographies compiled in back and an introduction by Paul Gravett.  I feel like I've been waiting forever for this to come out, as it's seen a series of delays, but it has finally arrived.

My Favorites
Inside the Gourd by Ayuko Akiyama is a magical, gentle story told with soft lines, about a man misunderstood by those around him.  It was kind of refreshing to read a story like this in an anthology that offers a lot of sex and violence, illustrating that to be a part of something as special as Ax, you don't need all the bells and whistles to stand out.

Push Pin Woman by Katsuo Kawai is another story told with soft lines and kind of reads like a dream.  I almost feel like it's manga poetry - it was just kind of beautiful and whimsical.

A Broken Soul by Nishioka Brosis is an odd little story, that I don't think I really quite got, but it really stands out with its amazing art, easily the most striking pencils of anyone in this anthology.

Puppy Love by Yusaku Hanakuma follows a couple who have a litter of puppies instead of a child, but raise them as humans, and the circumstances they encounter.  Strange, but I dug it.

The Tortoise & The Hare by Mitsuhiko Yoshida is a pretty straight-forward story, but I enjoyed the fable and the little twist on it.

Mushroom Garden by Shinya Komatsu is my favorite piece overall.  It has beautiful art reminiscent of Herge, with a lot of attention to detail and just beautiful drawings of the city and plant life.  Very magical.

Kosuke Okada & His 50 Sons by Hideyasu Moto is a weird, but cool little story with cartoony art that seems kind of old-fashioned.

Alraune Fatale by Hiroji Tani is a neat sexy sci-fi story that I really liked.  Nice realistic art with a cool idea.

Six Paths of Wealth by Kazuichi Hanawa reminds me a lot of Kazuo Umezu.  Great illustrations depicting a horror story, about a greedy mother and daughter and the Tales From the Crypt-like fate that awaits them.

Ones I Didn't Care For
Into Darkness by Takato Yamamoto is very verbose, very dark and I could hardly tell what was going on in the panels.  It just kind of reeked of pretension to me.

Me by Shin'Ichi Abe is just a throw-away story.  I can't imagine anyone really remembering it after passing it over - unremarkable and uninteresting.

Les Raskolnikov by Keizo Miyanishi is another one that's dark and extremely verbose.  It kind of reminds me of those bad soapy comic strips like Judge Parker - very over-the-top, yet stiff and unsatisfying.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of reading this anthology.  In a perfect world (or in Japan), I would be able to seek out the artists and pick up other works by them, but for now, I suppose I need to be content with having sampled them at all, and hope for some more translations from the artists I did like.  Some, like Yusaku Hanakuma (Tokyo Zombie), have work already translated in English.  But since this is labeled "volume 1," perhaps more is on the way...


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