Friday, October 14, 2005

Mushashi #9, Volume 1

I received Mushashi #9 thanks to the lovely and palindromic TangognaT and her manga giveaway. I don't know I would have picked it up otherwise, so I really appreciated getting a taste of something I would not normally try. Thanks again, TangognaT.

I really wonder, after reading Mushashi #9, if this is more representative of manga as a whole. I've been continually getting deeper in the manga pool, and finding the water to be quite warm indeed. But I'm like the new comics reader who starts in by reading Watchmen, Sandman, and Morrison's New X-Men ... only to find that they are the exceptions to the rule, and utterly unrepresentative of the whole. It's easy to fall in love with the classics of a particular genre: I can obsessively follow John le Carré without reading another spy story in my life, and Lyle Lovett remains my only real foray into country music. There's a gap between the best and the rest, and it can be huge. There's nothing really wrong with Mushashi #9. It's certainly as good or better than most of the superhero comics I buy. There's just nothing special about it, and it may be where I start to draw the line in my manga fandom. My lines are not being sketched around a shonen/shojo division, but around "exceptional" and "pedestrian". I could see the book being quite enjoyable if manga is your main source of comics, but it's a sideline for me ... and I can't see reading less than stellar works of manga.

The art is fine - it gets the job done, but has no particularly creative touches that make it stand out. It's fairly generic, but capable. The writing is much the same. This is the manga equivalent of your average TV show: competent, but not possessed of art. The TV analogy really comes to mind because of the very structured nature of each episode of Mushashi #9. Some shows have used repeated structures and concepts to great advantage: Six Feet Under's top-of-show deaths, the return home for the detectives in NYPD Blue, or the McCoy/Spock trash talk at the end of each Star Trek. It provides a framework and reliability that ensures the show remains recognizable, wherever else it may stray. In each episode of Mushashi #9 some schoolkids get in trouble, enigmatic superspy Mushashi gets the assignment and clears it up, and at the end of the episode someone is surprised to find out that Mushashi is actually a girl, and the kids learn a little lesson about life. The bolts and seams holding the structure together are so visible, I was already predicting the beats ahead of time by the third episode. Structure is good, and a little predictability goes a long way. But when you can call out the beats ahead of time after two episodes ... well, that's just not very fun.

Mushashi #9 is decent entertainment, and it certainly is as good as any random issue of New Avengers or Superman. But it's not better just because it's manga, and it really becomes a matter of personal taste after that. How do you like your predictable action-adventure popcorn entertainment? Bulging muscles or big eyes? Androgynous or with overly-defined gender roles? With a side of fries or a side of soba noodles?



tangognat said...

I think you're right that Musashi#9 is pretty middle of the road in terms of quality for manga.

One thing I've noticed from time to time is that the first volumes of some series are more episodic, and the later volumes start a more involved storyline. I think this is partially due to the way manga is serialized in Japan - a series may start with a few tryout chapters, and when it gets picked up by a magazine for a long period of time, the plots get better. Or worse, you never know :)

Mark Fossen said...

I hadn't considered the publishing structure, tangognat. That's a very good point.

I probably should give it a second volume's try ... but I haven't even gotten to volume 2 of Fruits Basket yet. And there's so much great stuff (like Planetes) that I've yet to try.