Sunday, October 2, 2011

Commentary: Monthly Afternoon

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Monthly Afternoon had long been a staple for me, since I first got into manga. While the magazine had once advertised itself as being the largest in Japan in terms of page count (at one time, 1000 pages per issue), what I wanted was the Gunsmith Cats chapters. I used to travel out to Silicon Valley every few months for business, and I'd make it a point to do the 1-hour drive up from San Jose to San Francisco (during rush hour Thursday evenings) because the SF Kinokuniya was the only one that occasionally had Afternoon (rarely any of the back issues, though). Back then, other titles included Blame, Ah! Megami-sama, Discommunication and Genshiken, and later there was Cannon God Exaxxion, but all I really cared about was the original run of Gunsmith Cats. When I returned back to Japan, the magazine had thinned back down to a more "reasonable" 790 pages (for 680 yen), but nothing in it compelled me to buy it each month. So, it's been a while since I've paid it any attention, and I guess it's time to include it in the reviews.

(Ah! Megami-sama)

I think that of all the magazines on the market now, only weekly Shonen Jump rivals Afternoon in terms of the number of titles that have become popular in the U.S. As mentioned above, Ah! Megami-sama (AKA: "Oh My Goddess!") is one of the biggest titles, and has been running since 1988, with at least 42 volumes published. In fact, there's even a "retro" title (Okawari Ah! Megami-sama), running simultaneously now. And, while Genshiken ended in 2006, Genshiken Generation 2 started up in 2010. Just about every single genre available is represented in Afternoon (except sports, surprisingly; the one baseball manga that had been in here is missing) and the art styles range from almost illegible to "fine art". I would argue that Afternoon could easily be named the successor to Garo - there's a lot of experimentation in the art and the stories, and some of it works, some doesn't.

Afternoon does have some freebies off and on, including figures, pens and keitai straps. I should have been a little more careful in selecting this issue, because the freebie is just a mini-manga magazine. I've never really liked the mini-magazines packaged with the normal mags, since the titles aren't much like the regular manga from the main publication.

Some comments on the manga in this issue:

Genshiken: Next Generation:
Same great artwork, same stories of university otaku trying to play with their hobbies in their club room.

Nazo no Kanojo X:
From the creator of Discommunication and Yume Tsukai. A slightly etchi story of a few school kids trying to come to terms with themselves. Very well-drawn, but with a limited storyline.

Vinland Saga:
I never really cared for the story here of a Norse kid kidnapped by Vikings during the era of Dane-controlled England of the later 11th century. The artwork is excellent, but Thorfinn, the main character, isn't very likable.

The character designs here are pretty crude, although the backgrounds are good. The story in this chapter is kind of stomach-churning. The two main characters had tied up an enemy in a warehouse and left him to die. They return to pick up the video recording equipment to figure out at exactly what point he kicked it. A live action movie is coming out in October.

Itsumo Futari de (Always the Two of Us):
Artist Kei Tome has also appeared in Afternoon with Acony. Del Rey has published her Kurogane. This time, she presents a boy and a girl who spend the entire chapter walking around the city and talking to each other. Good artwork, but little action. The for-profit art gallery GoFa had a showing of Kei's prints in September.

Blade of the Immortal:
Yes, it's been running since 1998, and shows no signs of slowing down. Lots of fighting, weird characters and stranger weapons.

Bullet the Wizard:
Kenichi Sonoda just can't stay away from Afternoon. Starting with Gunsmith Cats, he gave us Exaxxion, GSC Burst, and now a story of a cursed magic user. If you liked the artwork in GSC, along with the etchi elements, then Bullet will probably appeal to you as well. The character designs are just as good as before, but the story seems a little too silly to me. I miss the old GSC.

Bakuon Rettou:
Tsutomu Takahashi, who gave us Sidooh, is back with another ill-tempered teenager. In this one a pampered kid decides to join a biker gang. The artwork alternates between crisp, clean pencil lines, and muddy watercolors. This particular chapter just has the main character being lectured to by his parents and a judge. No real action. But, I've never liked Takahashi's portrayals of arrogant, self-confident snot-nosed brats. If you like Sidooh, you'll probably like this one.

Knights of Sidonia:
Remember Blame? Tsumotu Nihei has another SF title in Afternoon. Humans struggle against aliens. At least Nihei has learned to draw better. Blame was so murky I could never figure out what was going on. Knights is a lot better, but still fairly generic storywise.

Ryoko Yakushiji's Strange Case Files - Silver Queen:
I never would have expected Narumi Kakinouchi to resurface in Afternoon. But here she is, with a chapter from her Ryoko Yakushiji's Strange Case Files. I've long enjoyed this title, as well as her artwork on Vampire Princess Miyu. This title alone is enough to keep me getting this magazine. Great art, funny characters, wonderful spooky monsters. Highly recommended.

Isaki of the Cub:
Hitoshi Ashinano, who gave us Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip (YKK) is back with the story of a boy, a girl and a piper cub airplane. Planet geography has become 10 times larger than normal, and our heroes get to explore this new world. Same artwork as in YKK, and same subdued action.


The insert booklet is being referred to as "Afternoon Portable Vol. 23". It's 290 pages, and consists of three manga by people I've never heard of. None of the names are coming up on an English google search. Inoue Fuzuki has "ZNTV Tokyo Branch Office"; Shirakawa Gin presents "Archer's Quartet"; and Tomozawa Masao weighs in with "Four Seasons". Nothing I'm interested in.


Overall, I'd say that Afternoon is about as good as it ever was. Most western fans have been pulled in by Ah! Megami-sama and that's all they'll ever need, while the followers of Blame will stick with Knights of Sidonia. Me, I'll read Ah! Megami-sama because the Japanese text is easy enough and the art work is good, and same for Bullet the Wizard. But the only reason I'd put down hard cash to buy this mag is because of a combination of a really nice freebie, and Ryoko Yakushiji's Strange Case Files.

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