June 14, 2009
by: Serdar Yegulalp
Or how our corresponded ended up getting Vertical in central Jersey.
This wasn’t on the schedule. Not that there’s often a schedule to begin with.
I hadn’t planned on going to AnimeNext, but that just reminded me of the line from a Gene Hackman movie where someone asks his character if he and his wife had planned to have more than one kid and he replies “Nobody plans a kid like mine.”
There is very little about any convention experience that is planned. Things just sort of happen, the way you meet and fall in love with the woman you marry, the way you stumble across that just-perfect OVA or awesome game experience. And likewise, I hadn’t ever intended to hie myself to the middle of New Jersey (who does that on purpose, anyway?) and take part in covering AnimeNext ’09, but there were a couple of tempting reasons to do just that.
No, I’m not talking about the presence of folks like Kyle Hebert or Greg Ayres—the latter had to bow out at the last minute anyway—but the fact that one of the most underrated publishers of J-culture around, Vertical, had their very own panel and (gasp) some new things to talk about.
I hate it when a company I loves brings in fresh new blood and I can’t give them a proper hello. Case in point: Vertical’s new marketing manager, Ed Chavez, as this was my first time meeting him. I’d originally planned to get in touch with him when Vertical had their Kinokuniya appearance a couple of weeks ago, but that damnable Real Life got in the way and kept me from coming out.
Ed, bearded and with a slightly shy tone of voice, picked up the mike and declared his pride of affiliation: “The company’s what I live for at the moment. It pays well, I get to read crazy books, and I get to share whatever twisted knowledge I have with my associate here, so please encourage him to speak up.” Said intern has been educating himself with the Vertical “flavor”, and it was fun to watch the byplay between him and Ed
After a quick run-through of the Vertical imprint, Ed made it clear that they’re looking to provide the widest possible range of Japanese content to the West—not just America, but any English-speaking population out there. Their tiny staff (“five and a half”) pumps out cultural cross-branding unlike anyone else out there—from literary fiction to diet books to cultural products even more outlandish.
“A lot of the new licenses we wanted to bring you have been literally locked up within the last week. There’s nothing we can announce today, but in the coming months and years, you will see Vertical evolve. And hopefully along the way you guys as readers will evolve, as well as the market as a whole.” (This I assume was a cryptic reference to their new manga licenses, all of which are still highly secretive and which Ed has been hinting at on his Twitter account with increasing excitement.)
The summer/fall ’09 schedule for Vertical mostly consisted of stuff pushed back from earlier in the year (e.g., Walking Your Way to a Better Life, Sayonara Mr. Fatty). The big opener was the cookbooks, which have sold well (along with the Sudoku/oekaki books): Kentaro Kobayashi’s Noodle Comfort, Veggie Heaven and Bento Love, from the same man who gave us Donburi Mania. The beauty of these books is how you don’t need to have any special skills or prior experience with Japanese cooking to make it work; you can drop this into anyone’s kitchen and it’ll work. The ingredients are all domestic; no need to seek out your local Asian grocery. The exuberance that people exhibit with this kind of food approaches what people do with cosplay—and for those who haven’t already been turned on to that kind of culinary creativity, here’s one good way to get exposed to it head-on.
Another sell-out was the Iron Chef’s Knockout Chinese books, which had so many pre-orders it sold out the first day it went to shelves and was immediately reprinted. Would that Guin and Black Jack could move like that, but I see a parallel to FUNimation’s DBZ sales: it brings them so much money that they can afford to bring riskier, more interesting material like ×××HOLiC and Shigurui without regret. The craft and lifestyle material is Vertical’s bread and butter; Guin and Black Jack, their meat and potatoes. Or whatever metaphor you like.
They also pre-sold mad numbers of the Worry-Free Bakery book, which sports oil- and butter-free recipes for those of you really watching what you put into your mouth. That was also sort of the whole premise of Sayonara, Mr. Fatty, come to think of it. This was the “otaku diet” memoir written by Toshio Okada, the founder of GAINAX, and he dropped a huge amount of weight by simply documenting everything he ate as meticulously as possible. Turned out he was, like most of us, putting a great deal more into his mouth than he realized, and just raising awareness on his own of that helped. The book’s also more generally about reining in self-indulgences on many other levels, so swap overeating for just about any other vice—overspending, smoking two packs a day, you name it—and you have a prescription for how to bootstrap change into your life. (Walking Your Way … works in the same vein; it’s a life-style systematization guide.)
And then we got to the good stuff. Black Jack, volumes 5 through 8, are ready to be rolled out (no thanks to more holdups with Diamond). Nobody needs to be reminded of how iconic Black Jack is as a character or a series; Ed mentioned that ‘Jack has consistently topped the list of most beloved/famous anime/manga characters across the generations, and it’s not hard to see why. You always want to find out what the guy’s gonna do next for (or to) his patients, and what his patients might in turn do for (or to) him, and out of that conflict comes the life force at the center of this series. Ed mentioned something else that had been in the back of my mind for some time now: as with a few other series, there’s very little shading or Ziptone in the art: it’s almost entirely Tezuka’s own direct-to-paper inkwork, and it drives home just how total and obsessive his devotion to the work was.
Another delayed title I’ve been anticipating is Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s Summer of the Ubume. For those who were fans of the beautiful strangeness of Del Rey’s Faust anthology—or especially NISIOISIN’s tangled Zaregoto—this is the next logical step. The protagonist is an exorcist who doesn’t believe in ghosts, and his current case is a woman who’s been pregnant for almost two years. From that comes a story that revolves around the idea of the supernatural being something invented out of our need to have such a thing, among other heady ideas. Apparently Kyogoku is deadly obsessive about the formatting and layout of his books, right down to line breaks and word positionings, and I wonder if this is something that Vertical were contractually obliged to hew to. That and the follow-up story was animated by the CLAMP team, so CLAMP fans (read: ×××HOLiC fans) ought to pick it up if only for its atmosphere and conceits.
Another delayed work: Oniroku Dan’s Season of Infidelity. It looks every bit like the steamy S&M sizzler the artwork and the back cover copy declare it. Dan was the mind (or maybe the libido) behind a whole slew of 70s S&M movies, and his books follow the same mold. Recommended for those of you who are looking to graduate to the next step up from La Blue Girl and Bible Black.
Also delayed was Shall We Sumo? (the movie was named Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t) from the creator of Shall We Dance? The worst sumo club in town becomes a way for the students (most of which aren’t really interested in sumo as such) to better themselves in other ways. This will be pushed to next year, however, and it might be a bit too “Japanese” for many audiences, but I’m intrigued. It also looks like Takeshi Kitano’s A Guru is Born should finally come next year, too.