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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

World Cup Manga!

Hey, world!  Do you like sports?  I knew you did!  Well, how do you feel about comics?  Okay, what about Japanese comics?  Great!  Quick follow-up question: have you been beset by World Cup Fever and are primarily hung up on watching soccer (or as everyone outside the United States calls it, not-soccer), but also can't shake that perturbing interest you have in comics, no matter how many matches are going on?  Good news!  There is a shit-ton of manga out there about soccer!
One of the funnest things about manga is that there is a title about literally almost everything.  You like golf, mahjong, swimming, cooking, painting, animals, sex, comics?  Trust me, it's out there.  The maddening thing about it (or maybe this is what is so great, I dunno) is that most of it is so specialized that it can be very difficult to get into if you are not already a fan of that subject matter.  There are a few exceptions, of course (most notably Ping Pong, but I read that first as a Taiyo Matsumoto comic, and that guy could write about anything and it would be wonderful; also note that an animated series of Matsumoto's Ping Pong is currently running right now, and it's fucking awesome -more on that another time), but for the vast majority of it, I find myself uninterested by either the writing or artist, and the book exists to both keep aficionados interested and also to hock some very specialized equipment pertaining to whatever sport or pastime the book is about.  I guess that's all fine and everything, I just don't really care about many of the hyper-specific subjects of a lot of those books; I love comics as a medium before anything else, and good storytelling trumps subject matter any day of the week.

In 2002, though, Asuka Shuppan published Adidas Manga Fever, an anthology manga about (what else?) soccer, sponsored by (who else?) Adidas.  The main difference between this and most other sports-themed manga, for me, is that this book is full of some of the best artists working in Japan right now (and some in France, plus one Korean!).  Included in this anthology are works by Katsuya Terada, Jiro Taniguchi, Taiyo Matsumoto, Fran├žois Schuiten, plus many others, including Inoue Takehiko, who has become famous mostly due to his other well known sports manga, Slam Dunk!  All of this comes wrapped in a wonderful cover by none other than Katsuhiro Otomo.  It's all a very nice collection, though if you're looking for a large format, hardback book, you'll probably be pretty disappointed.  It's very nice, but one would just assume that being sponsored by Adidas, the package would be something at least similar to Otomo and Terada's Viva Il Ciclissimo! book set; instead, Manga Fever is about 7.5 x 9.5 inches (19 x 25 cm) and softcover.  All of that is fine, but given import prices, and the broad appeal of soccer worldwide, one would also wonder why they wouldn't have added at least some commentary in another language besides Japanese, especially since there are a couple non-Japanese contributors to the project.  I might be wrong, but as far as I know there weren't any foreign printings of this book, though I'm sure if you look, you might be able to find some translated versions online somewhere (editor's note: while I won't tell you where to find scanlations online, and urge readers to BUY BOOKS, I am fully aware of their importance and the vitality that scanlations give to an artist's work that would never otherwise see foreign soil).

I can imagine that this was a fairly expensive book to put together, as well (I would be surprised if it wasn't, at least), due to the alarming amount of well known talent included.  I don't know what the above average mangaka makes these days, but with stories and illustrations by the likes of Hirohiko Araki (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure) and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (Mobile Suit Gundam), it behooves me to ask again why this wasn't produced on a larger scale.  Either way, for all of that little griping, I do enjoy this book quite a bit, and it is still, so far, one of the better sports manga anthologies I've seen so far.  To be honest, I don't even think many of these stories are about soccer, really; Terada's contribution, Box!, is, I believe, more about boxing than it is soccer.  No matter!  Adidas Manga Fever is still an excellent way to satisfy both of your summer addictions, even if you don't read Japanese.