Reading Through This Year’s Eisner Nominees in Manga (and Highlighting a Few That Should Have Made It)

The 2018 Eisner Awards, to be presented this coming Friday at San Diego Comic-Con, are the premier awards for the comics industry. While they have never suffered from the kind of controversy the Hugo Awards faced a couple of years ago, there are always a few good arguments to be had about what should have been nominated—and what shouldn’t have been.

As a former Eisner judge myself, I’m philosophical about it: I figure the list is best considered a good starting point for friendly debate as well as a handy suggested reading list. I also know, from personal experience, that anything that makes it through the nomination process is well worth a look.

In that spirit, here’s a quick rundown of this year’s manga candidates, in the category “Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia.”

Furari, by Jiro Taniguchi
Furari is a beautiful coda to the career of Jiro Taniguchi, who died last year. The single-volume manga mirrors the structure of his earlier masterpiece, The Walking Man, but it is set during the Edo period and loosely based on a real person: Tadataka Ino, a surveyor and cartographer of the era.

Like the nameless hero of The Walking Man, the anonymous hero of Furari likes to take walks and view the landscape in a calm and meditative fashion, but Taniguchi fills Furari with historical vignettes rather than contemporary streetscapes, and the walker takes an analytical view of what he sees, counting his steps as he goes in order to calculate distances, contemplating the landscape with a poet he encounters, and even solving a problem. This brings a whole new dimension to the story, and Taniguchi’s crisp, clear linework renders it perfectly.

Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
When it comes to sheer roll-up-your-sleeves storytelling, Satoru Noda rules them all. Golden Kamuy is a mystery, an action story, and a buddy movie of sorts, set against the snowy landscape of Hokkaido in northern Japan and touching on the culture of the indigenous Ainu people. The plot is straight out of a dime novel: Saichi “the Immortal” Sugimoto, a former soldier in the Russo-Japanese war, goes north in search of a stolen treasure—a treasure that can only be found with a map that has been tattooed on a group of prisoners. (Each prisoner has a different portion of the map, so Sugimoto has to catch ‘em all.)  Lots of other people are after the treasure too, but Saichi has a formidable ally in Asirpa, a young Ainu woman who saves his life and joins his quest—for deeply felt reasons of her own.

Noda alternates scenes of gut-spilling violence with breathtaking views of nature, and plenty of side trips into Ainu culture (references are cited at the end of the book). Also, Sugimoto and Asirpa hunt and eat so many animals that a friend of mine described this as a “stealth cooking manga.” The art is clear, detailed, and easy to read, and Noda excels at depicting action. The plot propels the reader along, just like a good pulp story should.

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 1, by Gengoroh Tagame
Gengoroh Tagame made his career as the creator of explicit gay porn, usually featuring burly, hairy men depicted in sweaty detail. This is not that; as Tagame explained to me in an interview last year,“the motivation behind writing My Brother’s Husband has been the same as the motivation behind all my writing, which is I write what I want to read. What I want to see in the world isn’t out there, so I create it.”

What he has created here is a very sweet, teen-friendly story about family and acceptance. It stars with Yaichi, a divorced father with a pre-teen daughter, getting a visit from a burly, bearded Canadian man named Mike. Mike was married to Yaichi’s twin brother Ryoji, who was killed in a car crash, and he is coming to Japan to learn more about his late husband’s family and early life. At the beginning, Yaichi is very uncomfortable with this. He doesn’t know any other gay people (or at least, he thinks he doesn’t), he never really dealt with his brother’s coming out, and at first, he doesn’t know what to say to Mike, or even what to think. Fortunately his daughter Kana has a way of blurting out just the right thing at just the right time, and Yaichi is open-minded enough to accept what she and Mike have to say. (Mike, for his part, is puzzled by Yaichi’s friendly divorce.) Tagame presents the story in a series of short chapters, and they add up to an enjoyable family story with moments of heartfelt drama and gentle humor.

Otherworld Barbara, Vol. 2, by Moto Hagio
Moto Hagio is the queen of trippy sci-fi manga, and Otherworld Barbara is her masterpiece. The central character in this two-volume story is Aoba, a girl who we first see living in a happy, bucolic place—but that’s actually a dream, one she hasn’t woken from in seven years. Her lengthy sleep seems to have been precipitated by a violent murder, and when a “dream pilot” goes inside to see what she is dreaming, and hopefully figure out how to wake her up, everything starts to destabilize. The story starts out simple and grows gradually becomes more complex as Hagio weaves in the stories of others whose lives touch on Aoba and her dreams. All this is drawn in Hagio’s signature style, reminiscent of the pre-Raphaelites, with flowing hair, wide (but not exaggerated) eyes, and intricate backgrounds and costumes, making this manga as beautiful as it is intriguing.

Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories, by Junji Ito
Junji Ito depicts unspeakable horrors in a clear, linear, almost retro style, and each of his stories starts with some vignette from ordinary life, which makes it all that much spookier when the whole thing descends into madness. In the first story in Shiver, for instance, two teens are listening to a vinyl record in a scene that could have come out of a 1950s magazine, but the album turns out to have a sinister provenance and soon the corpses start piling up. Ito does this type of story very well, and Shiver is a buffet of outlandish tales, each one more grotesque than the one before, accompanied by author commentary and presented in a handsome hardcover volume.

What do you think of this year’s manga nominees?

Follow B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy