Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max

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Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 29, 2020

Summary: Aggretsuko, the hit Netflix show in production for season three, stars Retsuko the Red Panda, a young office worker stuck in a thankless job, whose only stress release is singing death metal at the local karaoke joint. With the help of her friends, can she ever find the job satisfaction she craves – – not to mention adventure, the approval of her mother, and even… love?! These comics explore all these issues and more, brought to life by today’s top talent!

Thoughts: I love Aggretsuko. I was super excited when the 3rd season was finally added to Netflix, and no lie, I kind of want a couple of the character plushies, because I’m absolutely that kind of geek. I love the idea that someone can be shy and sweet most of the time without it being pretense, but that they also have less-sweet emotions and thoughts that they need to release by means of screamy death metal music. I love the way it presents people as multi-layered and complex, and also that even if someone’s less-public side might be surprising, there will always be people who understand and accept that. If you haven’t watched the show yet, I highly recommend you do so; it’s gained popular status for good reason, and don’t let the fact that it’s made by the same company who made Hello Kitty fool you into thinking it’s some cutesy little childish thing.

So hell yes, I was thrilled to get my hands on Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max.

The first story in the comic collection, Down With the Sickness, is about an illness spreading around the company where Retsuko works, one that’s unique to that company and is caused by employee stress, poor self-care, and bad management. And I honestly can’t tell if, given the current pandemic, this story is in poor taste or brilliant. On one hand, when there’s a devastating disease still infecting thousands every day, maybe playing an virus for laughs isn’t the best option. On the other hand, the idea of a viral infection getting really out of hand due to poor management at higher levels, and the demand for people to go to work even when they’re sick and ought to stay home… You know, I can see why that might resonate with some people! It’s also playing off the whole “zombie virus pandemic” thing that’s still popular, since infected employees just sort of rush around in hordes and try to infect others. Yeah, not sure if it’s secret brilliant or in poor taste. Maybe a bit of both?

The second story involved Retsuko and Tsunoda going shopping and Retsuko getting annoyed with Tsunoda’s superficiality. Nothing too special there, but amusing enough. The third story, though, was about how an employee satisfaction survey showed that the company’s Japanese employees were less satisfied than ones in the West, and so a Canada goose named Karen is sent to change up how to office works, to improve employee happiness. She does so by getting in everyone’s way and making a bunch of suggestions that the employees are resistant to, and I’m sure she was meant to come off as… well, as a karen, and doubly so when you consider that she was trying to change things in one culture based on the sole perspective of her own culture.

But, I mean, one of the suggestions she made was updating the accounting software so that things ran more smoothly and efficiently. And the idea was met with, “Nah, it’s fine, and it would waste so much time having to be retrained.” Most of her suggestions were out of place and very much unwanted, but her literal job there was to find ways to improve company happiness, and “more efficient workflow” is absolutely a valid way to do that and it wasn’t an unreasonable suggestion. But it was treated as being an unreasonable as saying there should be more motivational cat posters, or the whole, “I want to speak to your manager,” thing she did toward the end of the story.

Ditto her problems with Ton being a bad boss who takes advantage of the people under him. Retsuko had a point that she has to stay and live with the consequences of not appeasing Ton whereas Karen gets to leave and forget about it if she wants, but Karen also had a very good point about bosses getting away with too much, and sometimes that can get very very bad. Hell, that very issue came up in an episode of the show!

(Also want to point out the irony of Karen saying that having dinner with coworkers was “out-of-the-box thinking” for boosting employee morale, since a lot of company in Japan mandate employee drinking parties at least once a month, and from what I hear, a lot of employees hate them. It’s hard to get out of them without seeming like you’re not a team player, and all they do is make you waste time and money and result in you going into work hungover the next day. “Out-of-the-box,” my ass! I’m not sure if that was meant to be Karen’s ignorance of Japanese work culture, or just something the comic’s writer wasn’t really aware of, but either way it gave me an ironic chuckle.)

I will say that some of the characterization seemed kind of off to me, but I have to concede that might be because when I watched the show, I watched it with Japanese audio rather than English, so the characters might be spot on for the English dialogue used. I really can’t tell. But for the Japanese version I’m more familiar with, there was a bit of a disconnect. It’s tough to see Retsuko saying, “What the hell?” for instance, and while Tsunoda might be very concerned with her appearance and manipulative, I can’t remember any hints that she might be super rich and think nothing of spending $700 on a dress or buying out a jewellery display case. Friends who watched the English dub, can you chime in on this one and offer clarity and context?

The art was good, and very true to the source material, and the stories were fairly creative, but I think there was a bit too much of a disconnect in some areas for me to like Metal to the Max as much as I enjoy the anime it was based on. The characterization wasn’t quite there, and 2 of the 3 stories had some sticking points for me that kept me from just reading and enjoying them; I felt too much like they were trying to make a point but missing the mark just a little bit. It wasn’t bad, far from it, but it was the little things that kept coming back to me, and the little things added up in the end. Fans of the anime will probably enjoy this supplementary comic, so long as they don’t look too deep or want it to be 100% true to the show, I think.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Fangs, by Sarah Andersen

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 1, 2020

Summary: Elsie the vampire is three hundred years old, but in all that time, she has never met her match. This all changes one night in a bar when she meets Jimmy, a charming werewolf with a wry sense of humor and a fondness for running wild during the full moon. Together they enjoy horror films and scary novels, shady strolls, fine dining (though never with garlic), and a genuine fondness for each other’s unusual habits, macabre lifestyles, and monstrous appetites.

First featured as a webcomic series on Tapas, Fangs chronicles the humor, sweetness, and awkwardness of meeting someone perfectly suited to you but also vastly different. This deluxe hardcover edition of Fangs features an “engraved” red cloth cover, dyed black page trim, and 25 exclusive comics not previously seen online. Filled with Sarah Andersen’s beautiful gothic illustrations and relatable relationship humor, Fangs has all the makings of a cult classic.

Thoughts: While it may seem strange to end Manga Month with a non-manga title, I couldn’t let August end without highlighting Sarah Andersen’s latest release, Fangs. A love story between a vampire and a werewolf might sound like the most cliche thing imaginable, the subject of I don’t know how many novels and short stories over the past decade or so, but as with many things, a unique approach can really spice up what might seem like a tired outdated trope.

And Andersen does a good job at bringing this uniqueness, with an emphasis on humour rather than broody drama. It’s cheesy humour at times, like jokes about werewolves having fleas or vampires sleeping in coffins, but it works, and there was a smile on my face the entire time I was reading Fangs. The art style isn’t what I’d call minimalistic but it does emphasize clean lines and simplicity, making it really easy to visually follow and not get bogged down in a zillion tiny details.

Also, the relationship between Elsie and Jimmy is so freaking adorable. How could you not get behind these two when they have bizarrely cute conversations about eating people? (Okay, maybe that one’s just a “me” thing…) Or how they’re quite different people but find ways to work their differences into the relationship and don’t feel the need to hide or minimize things their partner might not relate to. The way their relationship is so honest and open adds to the humour, and yes, I am probably reading too much into a simple comic about a vampire and a werewolf who are dating, but dangit, I really enjoyed Fangs, so I’m going to have my moment to gush over it!

It’s a short and sweet read, a series of one-shots that chronicles the early parts of their relationship, and is definitely something that would be right at home on my bookshelves. Though I received a digital review copy, I know already that I’m going to purchase a physical copy when it’s released, so that I can share the humour and adorableness with my partner. Fangs is 100% something we both enjoy and will want to dive into again.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Texan & Tokyo comics 1-3, by Grace Buchele Mineta

I’m taking a bit of a break from my usual SFF stuff today to shine a bit of spotlight on 3 collections of comics, written and drawn by Grace Buchele Mineta. I’ve followed her Texan in Tokyo vlog on YouTube for a while now, which I really enjoy (obviously, or I wouldn’t keep following it), and with news that not only is the 3rd collection of comics out now, but also that the Kindle editions of all 3 collections are currently free, I figured it was a good time to take a look at what she’s done.

With that in mind, it’s time for a few mini-reviews!

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Author’s YouTube channel
Publication date – November 14, 2014

Thoughts: Most of the comics here are cute slice-of-life stories about living in Japan. Which may not sound that interesting, unless you’re really interested in cultural stuff and what it’s like to break cultural boundaries and experience for the first time a lot of stuff that some people take for granted.

Which I’m very interested in!

Most of the humour in the comic revolves around that idea. So for those who aren’t interested in the nuances of daily life in Japan, as seen from someone who grew up in America, these comics may not amuse you that much. Sometimes the punchline is going to rely on the reader finding it amusing that a man won’t take his wife’s sister’s underwear down from the clothes line, and gets her to do it instead. The silly little things that make us chuckle in everyday life, with the added spice of cross-cultural relations.

Aside from drawn material, the artist also throws in a lot of commentary about Japanese culture, which is pretty useful for the many people interested in visiting there for any decent length of time. From festival food to garbage pickup, a lot of common questions about life in Japan get answered in quick and convenient ways. It’s not an all-encompassing how-to guide, but neither is it meant to be. It’s just a good overview of what to do in certain situations, with some artistic personal experiences thrown in for good measure. Which, I should add, doesn’t just rely on Japan’s culture to be funny. Sometimes she pokes fun at Texas stereotypes (or rather, the drawn version of her husband does), and it’s amusing to watch the culture divide from both sides.

It’s not all humour, though. She talks quite openly about the racism that she’s encountered over being in an interracial marriage, and how, like many female bloggers, has experienced hate mail and death threats over what she does. Those sections of the book, originally posts from her blog, are sobering to read. The book is autobiographical, so you really can’t talk honestly about certain things without bringing up certain aspects, and while I’m disgusted that some things happen, I’m glad she didn’t shy away from talking about it.

The comic collection is a quick read, filled with approachable humour and good commentary on many aspects of life in Japan. Definitely recommended if slice-of-life stories are your thing.

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Publication date – February 16, 2015

Thoughts: The 2nd collection of comics is a good continuation of the first, providing more of the same style of humour and daily life stuff that you expect after the 1st book.

Much of what’s in here stands on its own, so you don’t need to have read the first book to understand what’s going on. There’s no plot, just a series of instances. The only thing that really involves continuity is the presence of Marvin, a random talking rabbit that pops up now and again. But even he gets a little intro before the comics really begin, so you won’t be horribly confused if you pick up this book before the first one.

The joys of one-shots!

You can definitely see the evolution of the art style, even now. Less in terms of drawing the characters themselves (though there are some changes in appearance here and there), but more in the way the comics are no longer presented as 100% 3-panel events. Sometimes there’s more, sometimes less, in accordance with what the scene needs. It’s nice to see some experimentation here, which makes it all feel less formulaic and more organic.

(I say as though I’m some expert judge of comic styles…)

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Publication date – June 21, 2015

Thoughts: Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo is the 3rd and most recent comic collection in the series, released only yesterday. Like the previous 2 books, it continues Grace and Ryosuke’s adventures in Japan as an interracial couple, dealing with the amusements of life as they happen.

More and more, as I read through these comics, I’m struck by the thought that so many of the little things that Ryosuke points out are weird and how they’re done in Japan… They’re often the way I’ve been doing things for years, just out of personal taste and comfort. So I get extra amusement seeing him explain certain things to Grace.

Personal chuckles aside, once again I saw a good development of the art style here, with more generally-approachable humour rather than a solid reliance on cultural weirdnesses to carry the comic. There’s still plenty of that in here, to be sure, and for those who love culture clash stuff, this comic series is a gold mine. But there’s more that can be appreciated even by those who don’t have that as a particular interest, which is nice to see.

Aside – I love how the artist talks about being a big book-lover, and how there’s a term in Japanese for someone who buys so many books they can’t read them all. I think just about everyone reading my blog can identify that way, at least a little!

Having read all 3 Texan & Tokyo comic books now, I can say that they’re definitely worth the read, a fun diversion for the afternoon if you want a bit of odd humour, cute drawings, cultural ponderings, and the fun of being married to a goofball. Which is right up my alley, and I love that I got the chance to read them! If these sound like they’d be your kind of experience, then take advantage of the fact that they’re all free on Amazon until midnight on June 23rd.

(Book 3 provided for review from the author. Books 1 & 2 acquired on Amazon.)