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      01.06.2010 13:28
      Very helpful



      Free shojo manga from promising break out mangaka Emily Muto.

      ***Emi-Art? Is this some sort of new artsy crafty thing gummy?***

      It's okay, this is not another site about sponge painting, scoubi knots, or paint spinner supplies. While those things might be fun, this is entertainment of a different sort. To be precise, it is a site maintained by one Emily Muto to showcase her original comics and illustrations portfolio online. Muto draws in the Japanese manga style, and her stories follow the shojo format. A few are complete, and one is still ongoing, receiving regular twice weekly updates. In addition, on site she provides contact information as well as details regarding her availability for freelance commissions, and a section showcasing fan art that followers of her manga have sent in of their favourite characters.

      ***Comics? Manga? How many, and any good?***

      So far the site showcases five shojo romance titles: Universe of Jewels, Charmed Reality, Message in a Bottle, White Ribbon, and The Way to Your Heart. Each story stands alone and is unrelated to the others, and feature a nice variety of characters and dissimilar plots.

      Universe of Jewels is a sci fi romance title about Daisuke Mizuno , the school star swimmer and heart throb who is looking for his ideal girlfriend. The piece of art representing it on the homepage is interesting, but sadly, all we get is this and a teaser blurb as she has not actually written this tale yet. Given the quality of the tales she has written thus far, I look forward to seeing it.

      Charmed Reality is a cute little one shot about three school friends, Ai, Akemi, and Saori. The three used to be quite the close trio, but upon entering high school, Saori abandoned her aspiring shojo manga creator friends for the popular crowd. Undeterred, Ai and Akemi continue to draw, and one day Ai gives Akemi a pencil charm to inspire her while drawing. Little could Akemi guess that the little charm would work magic, making anything she drew come true! Created in 2004 for TOKYOPOP's 4th Rising Stars of Manga competition, it shows off an early example of her efforts. It is beautifully drawn, but the story is choppy in places due to the overall brevity of the piece. It could be easily remedied by expanding the story a bit more, especially as it ends on a note that leaves an opening for further exploration. Overall it is a very good effort with minor shortcomings and still well worth the read.

      Message in a Bottle is from early 2005 and created for TOKYOPOP's 5th Rising Stars of Manga competition. Teen aged Jenny lives by the Pacific ocean and thinks of the nearby beach as her sanctuary. She comes there every day, and one day is surprised to find a bottle with something inside has washed ashore. Inside is a note, several years old, written in Japanese, from a then 8 year old boy in Japan. Jenny's aunt taught in Japan for a few years, so is able to translate. It seems young Minoru Ishida was visiting his grandfather back in Sendai when his grandfather told him a story about a boy who put a message in a bottle and threw it in the sea, inspiring him to give it a go. In the note, he says he lives in Tokyo, and that he hopes that no matter how long it takes, the finder of the bottle will bring him the message back in person. Jenny's aunt is a bit of a romantic and pushes Jenny into doing just that. The aunt offers to teach her Japanese for a few years and help fund part of the cost of the trip. So, a further 6 years down the line. Jenny arrives in Japan, completely unaware that the Minoru Ishida who was once an innocent boy who threw a message into the sea is now Japan's hottest new idol. She soon finds out though, and two people become surprised by fate.

      This second full length one shot is not only well drawn with fine attention to detail, but the dialogue and plot are better polished as well. The appearance of movement still seems slightly stiff and posed, as if frozen in time, but the facial expressions are natural and the eyes really begin to speak. One can see the natural progression of experience, and Muto's talent clearly shines through. One can almost picture this mangaka standing on the precipice , ready to tumble over the edge from amateur to professional, with each succeeding effort.

      The first stumble down that very precipice turns out to be The Way to Your Heart . It was actually started before the pieces submitted to the Toyopop Rising Stars Competition, and unlike the previously mentioned pieces, is an ongoing series spanning several "volumes" currently totalling over 500 pages. Yumi Takahashi has just transferred to the prestigious St. Othello Academy, and given her ordinary family background, is really hoping to fit in and make her family proud. Visual kei band Orochi are also students at the school, and most of the school idolise them. Unfortunately for Yumi, she makes a bad first impression on the unstable lead singer Miyabi, who decides to hold a grudge and make her life utterly miserable. But she has caught the eye of Miyabi's best friend and band drummer, Toshio. Will Toshio and Yumi's love destroy the band? And just why is Miyabi so negatively obsessive about Yumi?

      And if that is not bad enough, what is going to happen when teacher, mentor, and band manager Mitsuzuka sensei discovers that Miyabi is sneaking around with his naive daughter Yayoi behind his back? Add in a face from Miyabi and Toshio's past in the form of Miyabi's former best friend and band drummer, Kazuki. Kazuki, who Miyabi betrayed in search of perfection, and who now has a band of his own, Phantasm. Phantasm, rising towards where Orochi now stands, and their only credible rival in the professional stakes. It's a tale of love, friendship, betrayal, and the visual kei music and fashion scene all rolled into one.

      Muto does an absolutely stunning job on getting the gothic visual kei elements right, something that even Japanese mangaka often fail to convincingly do. Indeed, the fashion is original to her, but would fit in nicely within the pages of Gosu Rori and worn on a Sunday visit to Harajuku's pedestrian bridge hang out. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say she is a fan of the visual kei genre or well acquainted with someone who is, as it is portrayed in such a manner as only someone who has experienced it well from the inside could. The beginning of the series starts off with the art less polished and the prose a bit stiff, but as the pages and volumes near 2010, we see the subtle changes taking place. The last two volumes in particular stand out, with her prose flowing naturally, emotions full blast, and her plot threads more fully developed, Likewise the art of these later volumes is less stiff, with bodies seeming more naturally relaxed, movements less mannequin like, and the facial expressions more realistic. This is the break out point then, as what one gets is fully equivalent to what might find professionally offered by a major shojo manga publisher.

      That she has reached this point becomes all the more evident in the perfect one shot microcosm that is White Ribbon. A short reflection on first love and the significance a single hair ribbon has made on the life of a now adult married man, it has none of the choppiness associated with the earliest produced works on showcase. Poignant and sentimental without being sappy, it leaves an impression upon the reader long after the final page has been left.

      ***So all is hunky dory?***

      This is not to say that the work is still without faults. In fact, I personally have found one that fairly glares me in the face. Muto is writing manga type comics. Her art is classic modern shojo in nature, her plots revolve around Japan, and feature predominantly Japanese characters. Yet it is read left to right, completely throwing the reader who approaches a page that looks like native manga, feels like native manga, yet is read backwards to it. I read Korean manwha, which also reads left to right, but that has its own style and the brain now associates that feel to reading the panels in the left to right format. But the brain has to be tricked with every page here, and it makes it tiring to read after awhile.

      Indeed, each time I come to check on the updates for The Way to Your Heart, I have to reread the first page because the brain sees "manga" and has to read it "backwards" and fails to do so on the first pass of the page. I rather suspect that I am not the only one with this issue, and given that most manga publishers, and indeed, the professionally published OEL (original English language) mangaka I have seen thus far, print in native manga format, it may just be that the task of having to flip the art to fit the expected format is the one thing holding her back. It might seem like a trivial issue, but given that it adds expense to a publisher's overhead, it makes it a more unattractive proposition.

      Given that the emi-art homepage comes in two flavours one selects from the landing page, English and Japanese, it also appears that one is hoping for the possibility of a crossover audience. With the manga available only in English, however, it would mean having to translate the text, and then there is still the issue of it needing to be flipped. Having it in standard North American and Korean manwha reading format seems an unnecessary hindrance to Ms. Muto's progress, and one I hope she doesn't let stand her way when a little effort on her part towards remedying the situation could bring so many benefits to herself and potential readers.


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