cover image AX: Alternative Manga

AX: Alternative Manga

Edited by Sean Michael Wilson and Mitsuhiru Asakawa, Top Shelf, $29.95 paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-60309-042-1

In the introduction, manga and comics expert Paul Gravett calls the stories in AX "manga taken off its leash." And he's largely right. Within the pages of this greatly anticipated manga anthology are some of the most imaginative, lush, grotesque, and ridiculous comics to come out of Japan. There is a vast array of both art and narrative, ranging from the plot-heavy, detailed "Rooftop Elegy," about a salaryman–cum–hit man, to "The Neighbor," an abstract but aggressive and combative look at neighborly love. AX includes gekiga godfather Yoshihiro Tatsumi (A Drifting Life) and heta-uma (bad-good) zombie humorist Yusaku Hanakuma (Tokyo Zombie) as well as the otherworldly storytelling of precision manga craftsman Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time). Neither commercial nor conformist, some shorts are at times absent of story, acting as scenes or commentary. In Einosuke's "Home Drama: The Sugawara Family," a father tries engaging his family in conversation over a dinner of soba noodles, a task against which the lush, visceral, and fully absorbing activity of eating wins. AX is a daunting size, but not impenetrable. (In the event of feeling overwhelmed, start in the middle.) It's an incredible selection and sampling of manga made in Japan without commercial intervention. (July)