Thursday, January 31, 2013

Graphic Novel Review: Emerald and Other Stories

Hiroaki Samura's Emerald and Other Stories collects seven powerful short pieces from the manga maestro that have appeared in various Japanese magazines. In “Emerald,” Samura tells his first explosive adventure set in the Wild West, and a series of humorous vignettes about two motor-mouthed teen girls is woven through several other riveting tales. A masterful storyteller bounces around genres and time periods in this unique collection!

For me I think I enjoyed the title story ("Emerald", about a hired gun, a destitute orphan and finding strength) the most. It made very little sense at first, two seemingly unrelated stories both being told at the same time, but at the end it wrapped up so well that I went back and re-read it with my newfound knowledge. "Brigette's Dinner", about a young girl (another orphan, this is a big theme in this collection) taken in to have dinner with a young (disfigured) lord, is very very sad, but again ties up nicely in the end.

Another one "Shizuku's Cinema" was, despite the large age gap, sweet until the end when as a reader we learn the truth about the 'life' we were witnessing. Then it becomes very sad, especially the ending scene. A bit confusing as well, but mostly sad.

"The Uniforms Stay On" is a whole bunch of short chapters throughout the book, which reading the afterword was a serialized 'slice of life' sort of story through numerous issues of a magazine. On one hand I found them intriguing because they are very much topical (as far as what's going on in Japan) and reflected the socio-economic differences that Japan is going through (which is often only touched upon, if mentioned at all, in most manga I read). But they were so boring!

When compared against another collection that just came out, Kaoru Mori: Anything and Something, also filled with random works from a certain time period, I think this falls short. There's no context for any of the stories--the disturbing "The Kusein Family's Greatest Show", about a daughter, father and the shadow of the deceased mother, has no context so the creepy nature of the father's fixation with filming his daughter ALL THE TIME is...well...creepy. I'm not saying the story would be less disturbing in context, but a note about why Samura wrote/drew it and for what magazine would maybe explain it.

There is an afterword that kind of addresses where the stories came from, but they're short paragraph blurbs mostly of the creator saying this or that was more difficult then he thought it would be originally (it would seem several of the stories were chosen because Samura believed the location or topic to be 'easy' to work the case of the "Uniforms" stories he found it hard to keep up with topical references as he's a very isolated, insular man).

As to the artwork, this is my first time reading this particular manga-ka, so for me the artwork was fine. Since all the stories are from the same decade (2000-2010 or so), the artwork doesn't change drastically and besides the stories aren't presented in publication order (there doesn't seem to be ANY order to them) so I couldn't say if it got better or not as time went on.

For the price, $12.99 retail and length (228 pages) I think this is a good volume for fans of his already (he is the creator of the popular "Blade of the Immortal" manga series, also released by Dark Horse Comics) that want to see him drawing/writing in a different setting. For newcomers, its rather misleading. I would read a series featuring the female gunslinger from "Emerald" for instance, but this volume doesn't make me want to go out and find more of Samura's works