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Manga 101 – Seinen Studies Part 2

Continuing from last time, we're going to take a look at a few more quality seinen manga series. If you missed the first lesson, well, first off, that's silly – go read it. Second, seinen manga is how Japan refers to comic books marketed towards older readers. They often use elements of realism, as well as more graphic depictions of sex and violence than those series made for younger readers. With no further need for introduction, let's get to the comics.

Bastard!! by Kazushi Hagiwara
Original run: 1988 - ongoing
US Publisher: Viz Media
Bastard Cover 2What is it?: I thought I would get our dark fantasy out of the way early this time. Bastard!! is the longest-running series on our list, due in part to it also having the most staggered release schedule. As such, it is something of a classic, acting as a precursor even to Berserk. Bastard!! is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which technology has given way to magic and those without it are reduced to medieval city-states. Among the magic users that rule the world is Dark Schneider, the most powerful and world-ruling wizard of them all. In DS's eternal quest to take over the civilized world and bed all of its women, he is defeated by Lars Ulu, prince of Meta-Licana. DS manages to ensure he will be reincarnated, but a priest is unexpectedly able to seal his power within the boy he is forced to become. Dark Schneider can only be returned to his true form and strength with the kiss of a virgin. Good thing Yoko, said priest's daughter, is as chaste as she is feisty. With Yoko's help, DS sets out to get back his full power and kingdoms from his former disciples and anyone else who might stand in his way. From this point it might already be obvious that Dark Schneider, despite being the hero, is a little bit of a tool. While the series is decidedly seinen in its attention to detail, violence, and states of dress, the oversexed mentality of the protagonist, among other things, gives the story more of an immature tone. Why bother, then? Well, it's fun. If it weren't obvious from the previously mentioned Lars, the author is a big fan heavy metal music, as well as Dungeons & Dragons. These influences make for a really fun 80's and 90's-fueled nostalgia experience.
Western comparison: Well, its biggest influences, Dungeons & Dragons and heavy metal music, are both primarily from the West to begin with. Think Lord of the Rings action with 1981's animated film Heavy Metal for aesthetics.

Hellsing by Kohta Hirano
Original run: 1997 - 2008
US Publisher: Dark Horse
Hellsing CoverWhat is it?: Great Britain's Royal Order of Protestant Knights, aka the Hellsing Organization, is controlled by the Hellsing family heir of each generation, in service to the Queen. Its mission is to keep all of us uninformed types safe from the threat of, as if you couldn't guess from the Bram Stoker-inspired title, vampires. The Hellsing Organization's greatest asset is the old and immensely powerful vampire Alucard, a servant of the Hellsing family whose massive handguns are a clear case of overkill when one factors in his terrifying vampiric abilities. Such is the scenario encountered by former-police officer Seras Victoria, a fledgling vampire in the service of Alucard and, vicariously, the Hellsing Organization. Even with her new abilities, Victoria is clueless of this secret world and acts as the reader proxy as she and her master encounter monsters, Nazis, and yes, I immediately realize how redundant that list is. The story is not anything especially unique, steeped in vampire lore, Christian conspiracy, and rumors of occult experiments performed by the Nazi party during World War II. However, Hirano's art exhibits a very stylized quality that is always interesting to behold. Covering anything and everything in blood is a running theme. This series probably comes with the most difficult recommendation, but for those it appeals to, it should not be missed.
Western comparison: As previously mentioned, the influence by Bram Stoker's Dracula is there. Honestly, Western media is so heavily saturated with vampires at the moment the only way you wouldn't be able to find a comparison is if you tripped over a zombie first. Alucard's powers and blood lust are so over the top it might be difficult to find something just like it, but the Blade franchise provides an overall similar feel.

Planetes by Makoto Yukimura
Original run: 1999 - 2004
US Publisher: Tokyopop
Planetes CoverWhat is it?: A hard science fiction series in which a not-too-distant-future Earth has turned to space in its search for new energy sources. Mining colonies on Earth's moon and planets beyond creates need for constant space travel, but the debris, from derelict satellites to human corpses, that floats in Earth's orbit is a constant threat to such vessels. That's where the trash collectors of the DS-12 "Toy Box" come in. The high risk, low reward position acts as an inspired backdrop for philosophy, highly-studied visions of the future, and characterization of the astronauts who deal with it all. At different points in the series focus is given to each member of the four-person crew of the Toy Box. Hachirota "Hachimaki" (Japanese for 'headband.' He wears a headband. I told you, it is all very scientific.) Hoshino wants more than anything to get out of his dead-end job and make a name for himself. Yuri Mihalkov has his own reasons for collecting debris and will probably keep doing so until the day he dies. Captain Fee Carmichael is getting tired of not being able to see her family on Earth, almost as much as she is getting tired of going without a cigarette. Finally, Ai Tanabe is the newbie with the upbeat attitude. As I said, the setting is tremendously well-supported by scientific fact and theory that makes for a truly believable universe. Having said that, the science really does give way soon enough to a very introspective and ponderous story that contemplates our place in the universe and the merits of love versus ambition. Violence and sexual themes are here, but extremely minimal, so if that's all your looking for, then look elsewhere. For those willing to ponder the universe, Planetes is not to be missed.
Western comparison: To be perfectly honest, I am not at all familiar with hard science fiction stories. The closest series off the top of my head, judged solely by it not having any aliens, is Firefly, and that is not even a good comparison. If anyone knows any good titles that might approximate Planetes a bit closer, I encourage you to leave a suggestion in the comments.

Battle Angel Alita: Last Order by Yukito Kishiro
Original run: 2001 - ongoing
US Publisher: Viz Media
Battle Angel Alita CoverWhat is it?: Before getting too far into the description, a quick foreword. This series is actually a sequel to Kishiro's previous work Battle Angel Alita. However, I have never read the original series, so there is not a whole lot I can say about it. Furthermore, there have been a few changes in the localization of the series. Namely, the original title of the series is Gunnm: Last Order and, as such, while our protagonist is named Alita, in Japan her name is Gally. With that out of the way, Battle Angel Alita: Last Order is the story of Alita, a cyborg and expert fighter living in the distant future. Suffering a fatal death at the end of the previous series, Alita is restored to life with a technologically superior nanomachine body. Upon her resurrection, Alita is anxious to find those she left behind, specifically a close friend named Lou, but finds that she has been gone some time and things are not as she left them. Alita must join friends new and old and exhibit her mastery of the Martian martial art, Panzer Kunst, in order to find Lou and Alita's own sense of purpose. Once again, we have a series that is preoccupied with considering what it means to be human, but the bleak future on display offers a rather broad spectrum to think on. As a cyborg, formerly a human girl, now a human brain in a machine body, Alita is more than once confronted with the question of her own humanity. When confronted with the ideas of microchips replacing brains and human reproduction being halted in favor of artificial immortality, the question becomes even more difficult to define. Compounded by the casual cruelty of this future, especially towards children, one is asked to contemplate if morality plays any part in humanity as well. In more ways than one, I am tempted to call this the science fiction equivalent of Berserk.
Western comparison: The same Isaac Asimov and company stories I suggested with Chobits approximates the philosophy and mechanics, if not the action. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner comes close to some of the aesthetics, but Alita seems to have a hard time staying in one locale.

That's it for Seinen Studies. If you have any thoughts or opinions on my picks, then feel free to tell me so in the comments. Any suggestions? Do the same.


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