The Most Awesome Comics In The World (Aren't American)
This past year has been a big one for me. I got married, I moved to New York City, and most importantly, I gifted myself a terrifying manga obsession. Manga -- or as your uncle might say, "Japan comics" -- had always scratched menacingly on the outside of my interests like a monster in an Edgar Allen Poe story. I liked comics. I liked video games. Anime seeps from my pores. So manga seemed like something that I'd probably be into. But I kept it at arm's length. "You're not invited to the table, manga," I said, wearing my varsity football jacket and clutching my cheerleader girlfriend body pillow. "No LOSERS allowed."
But dammit if I didn't fall in love with manga too. And one of the reasons that I did is that there's a bunch of stale franchises that got manga adaptations and those adaptations kick all sorts of ass. These are four series that received the deluxe manga spa treatment and were only improved by it.
Pokemon Adventures Doesn't Treat You Like A Fool
I've had to come to terms with the fact that I'll never not be in love with Pokemon. It's the thing that I send drunken text messages to on lonely nights. "Daniel + That Level 100 Dragonite From My First Playthrough of Pokemon Red 4Ever" is carved in trees all around my childhood home. No matter where we go, Pokemon and I are hip-to-hip at prom, slow-dancing to "Forever Young."
But when I finally get done playing the latest game for the second or third time, what is left? Some might say that I should watch the anime, but those people haven't seen the anime, which began to recycle plots by its third episode. Keeping up with the Pokemon anime requires a kind of patience that I'm not sure I have. And I'm not quite sure that anyone has it. "Plus, it's a little childish," I'd say while binge-watching Digimon.
And then, as if it was thrown from the heavens, I discovered the Pokemon Adventures manga. Now, if you're expecting some kind of radical departure from the traditional Pokemon story of "There are monsters in this world, and we have to collect them and beat the shit out of our friends with them," you'll be disappointed. Pokemon Adventures does start with a kid proclaiming that he will be the very best at Pokemoning -- an origin story that's been retold as many times as "My parents sent me from Krypton" and "No! Uncle Ben!"
However, it's the additions the manga makes to that narrative that keep it from falling into the realm of "Ugh, This Again." It's like Pokemon Adventures heard every hypothetical Pokemon conversation that I had with the friends whom I also totally had in elementary school. Gym leaders turn evil and join a vast criminal organization that extends to the highest powers in the Pokemon universe? Professor Oak being competent? A truly bizarre amount of Pokemon mutilation? I don't know if the games did a good job of explaining this to you, but apparently, if you hit a Pokemon hard enough, it comes apart like a fucking Christmas ham.
Gotta eviscerate 'em all!
But most importantly, Pokemon Adventures doesn't feel the need to reiterate what a Pokemon is and what you should do with them every few minutes. And this allows it to actually make an attempt at world-building, rather than constantly being forced to remind you of the fact that there is a thing called "Pikachu," and that it's kind of a big deal.
The Legend Of Zelda Adapts The Un-Adaptable
I didn't play any of the Legend of Zelda games as a kid, because frankly, my body just couldn't handle them. You have to make him walk AND perform another task at around the same time? Do I have to make a three-pointer from half court next? Christ, Nintendo. I'm not Superman. I guess that's why I stuck to Pokemon early on. You just walked up to something, pressed "A," and let the game happen.
However, when I finally trained my brain and my thumbs to cooperate, I began to play Zelda games, and man, they ain't bad. However, playing them and talking to other people about them also introduced me to the idea that some people really want a Legend Of Zelda movie, which is an idea that makes a lot of sense if you're new to the concept of movies as a whole. Link is great as a silent protagonist who solves dungeon puzzles and throws pots around. But a $250 million Hollywood version of this, with Link cracking jokes and Navi voiced by Aubrey Plaza? Set my eyes on fucking fire.
The Legend Of Zelda manga is based on the games themselves, and honestly, it's a really happy middle ground between the games and Sony Pictures' The Legend Of Zelda: Apocalypse. Produced by Akira Himekawa, a pen name for a duo of female artists, they manage to capture the "Oh my god. Life is wonderful, I'm a child again, and adventure is everywhere" atmosphere of the games without making the story into a jumbled mess of item-based quests and dungeon crawls. Somehow, they've adapted the exact feeling you get when you finally run around in the grass for long enough to scrounge up those 40 rupees for a shield.
And also the feeling of finally beating your biggest enemy after losing 16 straight times.
There's never going to be a perfect translation of Link. That dude has spent his whole life saving the world while totally on mute. Every character trait that you throw at him is going to seem odd, because he has whatever personality you attribute to him. My Link constantly forgets what task he is on, and is terrible at anything that is timed. That's how I play him, and that's who he is to me: a goddamn idiot. Akira Himekawa's Link is a little arrogant, a little goofy, and mostly heroic, and if you can get past the fact that it's not the Link you portray in your speed run, it's solid.
Gundam And Ultraman Remove Years Of Confusion
We're two peas, you and I. We both love to read and watch things in which giant stuff brawls other giant stuff. It doesn't matter if these things are robots or aliens or just general monsters. We hold these franchises close to our hearts. And when we try to recommend them to people, it's like we've handed them a treasure map that's had the route wiped off of it. I can't tell someone that they should watch Gundam, the franchise about the eternal euphoric war of the space robots, without receiving "So should I start with Mobile Suit Gundam? Gundam SEED? Gundam Build Fighters Try? Or should I abandon this forever and watch The Office for the eighth time?"
When they've been around for over 30 years, every giant monster/robot anime or movie series turns into a labyrinth of continuity. Ultraman tells the wonderful story of the Science Special Search Party and Ultraman, who exists to handle every pissed-off beast that threatens Earth. And like Gundam, there are over a dozen series to choose from, with names like Ultraman Ace, Ultraman Leo, and Ultraseven. If you don't know what they are, it sounds like someone repeatedly trying to remember the name of a single series and never quite nailing it.
As if it heard a million people simultaneously shriek into the sky "Someone help me enjoy these things!" the manga swooped in on wings of pure middle-school shame. On the Gundam side, we were delivered a 12-volume retelling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime, with art so gorgeous that you'd swear it was trying to make you feel something.
Eat shiiiiit, Rembrandt.
The new Ultraman manga eliminates years and years of history, and instead acts as a direct sequel to the original series. And since the original series mostly dealt with a giant Power Ranger punching 300-foot aliens in their stupid mouths, there's not a whole lot to catch up on. Also, if for some reason you're open to reading something called "Ultraman," but too embarrassed to show anyone the inside of it, this version contains some of the requisite reboot grit. This mostly comes in the form of turning some of the original monsters into robots and including scenes of aliens eating people. However, now that I've written it out, I'm not so sure that it's "reboot grit" as much as it's just the greatest idea in modern art approaching meltdown levels of radness.
Bat-Manga! Makes Batman Fun Again
I have a complicated history with Batman. If Pokemon is my eternal, pleasant love, Batman is the person I spend the night with and wake up with a tattoo of their face on my asscheek the next morning. My friends will tell me "Maybe you should slow down," only for Batman to tell them, "HEY. HE'S A GROWN-ASS MAN. HE CAN MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS." And then when I'm trying to find a ride home, I discover that Batman has stolen my car and driven it into a tree. A few months later, I get a voicemail from Batman saying, "Hey. I'm in a better place now. I'm being directed by Christopher Nolan and it's going really well. Want to meet up?" And I do, and it's fun, and then boom -- my other asscheek has another Batman face on it and my wallet is gone.
Plus, despite how often they try to "reinvent" Batman, there's a solid chance that Batman has already been "reinvented" in the exact same way before. Whether it's "No, but like, you don't get it, this Batman is like, really dark" or "We're gonna take Batman in a new, more fun direction," we've seen it all a few times. Really, the only way to change Batman into something that people haven't seen is to do something absolutely nuts with him.
A manga that's very, very loosely based on the '60s Adam West series, you say?!? Why, that just. Might. Work.
The manga immediately sets its tone by showing Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson at a jewelry auction. They are bored out of their minds, so thankfully, the event is interrupted by bunch of skeletons with machine guns. Their leader is LORD DEATH MAN, who immediately announces "I AM LORD DEATH MAN," as is custom when your name is Lord Death Man. And Lord Death Man's power is that he can play dead really well. That's it. You'll think he's dead, and it's all a big bamboozle, because he's not dead. Batman, being the world's greatest detective and not a bear, only falls for this a few times.
The fact that he dressed like a skeleton AND pretended to be dead really made Batman question his whole reality.
In Bat-Manga!, there are no traditional classic Batman foes. Instead of the Penguin, you get Professor Gorilla, an evil, actual ape who wants to steal Batman's brain. And instead of the Joker, you get Doctor Faceless, who wants to steal YOUR FACE. As it turns out, you don't need to make Batman a grim protector or a jaunty do-gooder in order to freshen him up. You just need to make him sort of bad at his job and give him someone like Doctor Faceless to fight. Someone tell Warner Bros. I know they don't want to do any more reshoots on Justice League, but this is important.
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