The Cat in the Coffin by Mariko Koike Novel Review

Title:  The Cat in the Coffin

Author: Mariko Koike

Publisher: Vertical

ISBN: 9781932234121

May Contain Spoilers

When Masayo is offered the opportunity of a lifetime, the aspiring artist just can’t turn it down.  Though it sounds too good to be true, she packs up her bags and heads off to Tokyo, where she will be a live-in housekeeper for artist Goro Kawakubo.  In addition, she will also tutor his young daughter, Momoko, a quiet, withdrawn little girl whose only friend is a pure white cat named Lala.  When the beautiful Chinatsu captures Goro’s attention, will the peaceful tranquility of the Kawakubo household be destroyed forever?

The Cat in the Coffin is an intriguing coming of age story about a twenty year old woman from the rustic town of Hakodate.  Masayo leaves everything that is familiar behind when, in 1955, she boards a train to Tokyo to work for Goro Kawakubo.  Though she will be working as a live-in housekeeper and a tutor for his young daughter, she has really taken the job because he has promised to give her a weekly art lesson.  From a humble background, the prospect of chasing her dream of becoming an artist is too tantalizing to ignore.  Masayo longs for more out of life than the path that had currently been available to her; she wants to do more than help her mother run her modest flower shop.

Once in Tokyo, Masayo meets the charismatic Goro, a cultured man in his thirties.  A widower, Goro doesn’t have the time to devote to domestic chores, but he wants a feminine presence in his house for his daughter.  He is also the life of the party, and throws soirées at his home every weekend.  He is a complicated individual, highly sought after for his wealth and quick-wit.  It’s not long before Masayo has fallen entirely under his charming spell.   The naive girl never stood a chance against him, and she is way out of her league with her employer, but that doesn’t stop her from foolishly daydreaming about him, or wishing that they could live together in happiness with his daughter Momoko.

Momoko , like her father, is charming and attractive.  Masayo can’t resist Momoko’s charms, either, and she spends her first months in the Kawakubo household trying to earn her affections.  Momoko is a somber child, a girl who has withdrawn into a protective cocoon since the death of her mother.  Her only companion is the white cat, Lala, and Momoko eschews human contact.  She is a challenge Masayo can’t resist, and the young woman expends a lot of energy crafting ways to break through the barriers Momoko has erected around herself.

As one day turns into the next, Masayo falls into a comfortable rhythm in the Kawakubo household.  She lives for both Goro and Momoko, cooking up elaborate dreams where the three of them live together forever.  When the unthinkable happens, and the scheming Chinatsu tries to worm her way into Goro’s heart, both Momoko and Masayo struggle against the inevitable.  Chinatsu is elegant and beautiful, possessing the forceful personality of a tsunami.  Once she arrives on the scene, nothing is as it was, and nothing can ever go back to the way it was.  She has changed the pattern of the Kawakubo house as violently as an earthquake.

Through all of this, the white cat, Lala, stalks the halls and fields surrounding the family estate.  Lala is as demanding a presence as the humans in The Cat in the Coffin, and she is the catalyst for disaster and heartbreak.  After the death of her mother, Momoko has embraced the cat as her surrogate mother, and the two of them are never far apart.  They share a deep and intense understanding of each other, and even Masayo finds herself becoming attached to the feline.  Before long, the young girl, woman, and cat are constant companions, roaming the barley fields and sharing dreams and adventures on the way.  When Chinatsu blows into their lives, their serenity is destroyed forever.

Once I picked up The Cat in the Coffin, I found it very difficult to put down.  The tale is a little slow paced, as the author builds tension for an explosive conflict that shatters the lives of all of the characters.  No one is left immune, tranquility is destroyed, and nothing that Masayo does makes any difference in the end.  She is given a shot at a dream, it’s within her grasp, but she can never hold it or control it, not even for a moment.  She is almost as childish as Momoko in her outlook, where fantasy and reality clash uncomfortably, forcing her to reassess herself and everyone around her.  Jealousy is a destructive force that can’t be dodged, and it rips through the fabric of Masayo’s existence.

This is a study into how destructive love can be.  Selfish love corrupts and taints, leading to unhappiness and self-destruction.  Through it all, Masayo gently narrates the biggest regret of her life.  The events that take place in the Kawakubo house leave their mark on her, one that years of self-recrimination can ever heal.  Masayo’s descent from idealistic young woman to jaded recluse is a train wreck of emotions, one that is compelling and hard to ignore.  Even given the knowledge at the beginning of the journey that tragedy lurks around the corner, you can’t turn away from the disaster. 

Grade: B

Review copy provided by Vertical Inc

[PR] Vertical Vednesday – A Sporting Chance

Wow, the press releases are flying into the mailbox fast and furiously this evening. If you’re lucky enough to live near NY, you can chat it up with Ed and talk about manga till your heart is content.  People will even listen to you while you ramble on about your favorite series.  You don’t even get that kind of attention at home!   

For Immediate Release

Vertical Vednesday – A Sporting Chance

In the pantheons of manga there is one genre that sets itself apart from the rest—sports. One of the oldest genres and arguably the most beloved, sports manga is often referred to as the champion of genres by editors and artists alike. Yet, despite its many accolades and international respect, sports titles have not yet hit a homerun with North American readers.

Sports titles like Tomorrow`s Joe and Aim for the Ace helped lay down a foundation for Japanese pop culture back in the 60`s and 70`s. More than a decade later, Captain Tsubasa introduced manga to Europe and Latin America. And yet to this very day, many a sports manga contender has attempted to reach the Major Leagues of Comic-dom only to be relegated to playing a specialist role on bookshelves across America.

This Vednesday night Vertical’s own ballers will take to the field to pitch innings of unbeatable manga wisdom. Tackling everything from national pastimes to the new emergence of competitive eating comics, we will make a case as to why sports manga should be the undisputed world heavyweight comics champion!

Location: Books Kinokuniya New York (Café Zaiya, 2nd floor), 1073 Avenue of the Americas
Date: July 8, 2009 (Wednesday), 6:25pm-8:00pm

Drinks and snacks will be provided.
Please RSVP by emailing

[PR] Vertical Vednesday Chapter 3 – Yanki doodle Dandy

Vertical, please take your book club on tour so I can attend, too.

Vertical Vednesday Chapter 3 – Yanki doodle Dandy

What do Yanki and Yankees have in common?  Clearly there is a collective sense of passion for community and brotherhood that cannot be measured by numerical means.  Many Japanese Yanki and 18th Century American patriots also have been known for their hair as much as their willingness to take to arms…But that is where the similarities end.

Modern day Yanki are a mix of old-skool rebel charm and toughness wrapped in hip-hop threads and punk rock bling.  Being a Yanki is as much about the attitude as it is the outfit, and after being sent to reform school by PTAs and mass media for more than a decade these fictional thugs for life are once again taking the J-Pop scene by storm.

In the latest edition of Vertical Vednesday our Japanese pop-culture themed book club will carefully take on the world of Yanki in manga, prose and film.  From the bad boys of Be-Bop High School to Hiroshi Takahashi`s modern day rebels without a clue, Yanki have repeatedly shown why nice guys always finish last.


Books Kinokuniya New York, 1073 Avenue of the Americas

Date: June 24, 2009 (Wednesday), 6:30-8:00~

Drinks and snacks will be provided.

Please RSVP by emailing

[PR] Sayonara, Mr Fatty!



Sayonara, Mr. Fatty: A Geek’s Diet Memoir

July 14, 2009

192 pages, 5 .5 x 7.5 inches

Health/Memoir, Trade Paperback                             

978-1-934287- 42-2

$14.95/$17.50 CAN  Vertical, Distributed through Random House

OtaKing Reveals the Secret to Controlling Your Inner Geek

Toshio Okada is a professional geek.  The former CEO of Japan’s most influential animation studio looked the part as well, as his 5’7” frame was carrying around 250lbs of nerd across the globe while working the international lecture circuit.  He tried every diet out there, and not a single one was able to keep the weight off.  So he did what every geek does when they cannot find satisfaction…he built a better program.

Love juicy, cheesy burgers?  No time to go to the gym?  Afraid there will always be another rebound down the road?  That’s okay!  This is the thinking person’s weight-loss plan—a diet for the rest of us.  By reading Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! you too can enjoy your obsessions and still lose more than 100lbs in a year with little more than a pen and a notebook.  Say good-bye to the flab, and prepare to look better and feel great while enjoying your favorite foods.  Be in command of your own geek kingdom, and never say no to a hamburger again!

Born in Osaka in 1958 Toshio Okada is a Japanese writer who specializes in pop culture.  He is the founder of GAINAX Co., Ltd., serving as CEO from 1984 to 1992.  GAINAX is known as one of the most influential anime studios in Japan, due to the success of such properties as Royal Space Force: the Wings of Honneamise, Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water, GunBuster and Neon Genesis Evengelion.

Often referred to as the “OtaKing—short for “King of Otaku” or “King of theGeeks”—Okada has published more than ten books. He is a regular lecturer on pop culture in universities and colleges around the world, including MIT and the University of Tokyo.

Dororo Vol 2 by Osamu Tezuka Manga Review

Title:  Dororo Vol 2

Author:  Osamu Tezuka

Publisher:  Vertical Inc

ISBN:  9781934287170

May Contain Spoilers

Deformed Hyakkimaru is back, continuing on his journey to reclaim his stolen body parts.  With the impish thief Dororo for company, the two travel the countryside, encountering hideous monsters and equally evil humans.  As sinister forces target Hyakkimaru, he must confront his own inner demons to make himself whole.

Hyakkimaru is so cool!  He’s a touch arrogant, totally self-assured and not willing to bow down to anyone.  He is confident in his fighting abilities, and he’s not about to let some nasty demons get the better of him.  Despite having more than his share of pride, he remains sensitive to others, and he’s always the first to throw himself in harm’s way to save another. 

Dororo’s not so bad, though he’s more like an annoying brat.  He’s the little brother you want to ban from your room – forever.  No matter how many times Hyakkimaru tries to chase the boy from his side, Dororo stubbornly remains, despite the dangers facing them.  Though he’s growing more noble, he can’t leave his tendencies for thievery behind, and he’s constantly in search of things to pilfer.  His skills at skulking around are put to good use by Hyakkimaru, and Dororo is an eyebrow raising master of self-preservation.

All of the action is once again cloaked within a framework of human relations.  The fighting and death-defying scenes are suspenseful, and Dororo must have the nine lives of a cat.  He gets out of the most impossible situations with only a few scrapes and bruises, relying on his noodle, and dumb luck, to get him through.  I enjoy the interaction between Dororo and Hyakkimaru – they squabble like siblings, bickering back and forth and getting on each other’s nerves.  When they work together, there isn’t anything that they can’t accomplish – I wonder how long it will be before they figure that out?

Grade: A-

Rated for NCR

Review copy provided by Vertical Inc

Dororo Vol 1 by Osamu Tezuka Manga Review

Title:  Dororo Vol 1

Author:  Osamu Tezuka

Publisher:  Vertical

ISBN:  9781934287163

May Contain Spoilers

Power hungry Daigo Kagemitsu longs for complete control over Japan, and he’ll do anything to get it.  Promising his unborn child’s body parts to 48 demons, he’s willing to forfeit the life of his child for his ambitions.  When his son is born hideously deformed, Kagemitsu orders that the child be thrown into the river to die. The infant is found by a kind physician, who names him Hyakkimaru and rears him as his own son.  When demons and ghouls begin to attack them, Hyakkimura realizes that he must set off on his own on a quest to recover his body parts.  Along the way, he encounters Dororo, a young thief, and the two battle monsters as Hyakkimura seeks to have his body restored.

I originally thought this series sounded kind of gross, what with all of those missing body parts, but I was soon sucked into Hyakkimaru’s adventures.  The pacing is blistering, as he and Dororo encounter one demon after another.  Set in the Warring States period (1467-1573), the misery of the common people is recounted, both through their encounters with starving villagers and through Dororo’s own sad background.  Dressed in tatters and readily snacking on grubs, the poverty portrayed was more terrifying than the ghouls pursuing our heroes.  Osamu Tezuka’s ability to immerse his readers in the lives and hardships of his characters is staggering.

At its core, Dororo is an awesome action/adventure title with strong characterizations and a gripping setting.  Kagemitsu gets the ball rolling by sacrificing his unborn child for his desire for the conquest of Japan, tossing the infant out like so much trash when he realizes that the demons have accepted his offering of the  boy’s 48 body parts.  Poor kid.  More like a worm than a child, the pathetic thing is thrown into the river.  Rescued by the wise doctor, he’s given prosthetic arms, legs, and eyes.  Able to communicate telepathically, Hyakkimaru learns to walk with his artificial limbs.  After the ghouls and monsters start to attack, the doctor gives him one more gift, swords hidden in his prosthetic arms so he can defend himself, and sends him on his journey to regain his stolen body parts.

Along the way, he encounters Dororo, a thief, who follows after Hyakkimaru in hopes of stealing the swords concealed in his prosthetic arms.  Dororo is a brat, and is wise beyond his years.  His past is riddled with tragedy, and an orphan, he’s been forced to fend for himself.  The two form an unlikely allegiance, as they wander the countryside battling demons and equally evil humans.  They’re always outcasts, even after saving villages from certain doom after vanquishing the evils that threaten the populace.  In times of such overwhelming hardship, even kindness is too dear to spare for strangers.

The horrors of war and its effect on the common people was also examined.  Even in this time of abject poverty, pride vied with common sense, and a humble rice cake could ignite a flame of hatred.  In a moving scene with Dororo’s father, the inequities that plagued the peasant class simmered to the surface, leading to even more misfortune.  The struggle to survive in this harsh setting is a fiercer foe than battling the deadliest demon, and it’s just another detail to enrich the world of Dororo

Highly Recommended

Grade: A

Rated for NR

Review copy provided by Vertical

Andromeda Stories Vol 1 by Ryu Mitsuse & Keiko Takemiya Manga Review

Title:  Andromeda Stories Vol 1

Story by: Ryu Mitsuse

Art by: Keiko Takemiya

Publisher:  Vertical

ISBN:  1932234845

May Contain Spoilers

Something is rotten in Cosmoralia, and it’s not the garbage.  An invading army slowly infiltrates the palace, taking control of the governing body.  As Queen Lilia watches her husband, King Ithaca, change from a kind and benevolent ruler into an emotionless and frightening tyrant, she wonders what’s gone wrong.  Will she be able to protect her unborn child as the forces of evil gain more control of the government?

Andromeda Stories introduces the planet Astria, a peaceful world where everyone lives in harmony.  Cosmoralia’s Prince Ithaca is to take the throne and marry Lilia of neighboring Ayodoya during a period of favorable celestial readings.  Unknown to the populace, a strange ill-fated star has shown itself in the heavens, heralding the menace that is slowly bearing down on the planet.  An invading force of mechanical soldiers is about to make its move and take over the rulers of Cosmoralia.

The world of Andromeda Stories is a blend of fantasy and science fiction, where gladiators battle to entertain the populace and survey crews work to create maps based on aerial photos of the land.  Swords and spears share the same space with guns and tanks, making an interesting mix of technologies.  Even though the Cosmoralians consider themselves far advanced from their neighbors, they have no chance when confronted with the invading machines that arrive to conquer the planet.

There’s a lot going on in this volume, some times a little too much.  The pacing is blistering, and at times, the plot gets a little confusing.  There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and most aren’t given much background to anchor them in the story.  Il was the most intriguing character, a survivor of the machine army’s invasion of another world.  She’s on a mission to destroy them and rid the universe of their threat.  She’s too late to contain them to their ship and destroy the lot of them, and is forced to watch helplessly as the soldiers, in the form of mechanical bats, swarm over the city.

Lilia, the young princess from Ayodoya, is thrilled with her marriage to Ithaca.  Her joy soon turns to fear, as her husband becomes a stranger to her.  Cruel and ruthless, he’s not the man she married.  Now that she’s pregnant, her servants believe that fatigue is confusing her and making her paranoid.  Others, however, know the truth, and also believe that her unborn child will save the world.  As ill omens plague the land, the people begin to whisper in fright.  What is happening to peaceful Cosmoralia?

I enjoyed the tense atmosphere of the story, and thought that the invaders were frightening as they easily took control of the rulers of Cosmoralia.  The prophecy of the Red Dragon Crest added a fantastical element, and the young Prince Jimsa is displaying some pretty amazing powers.  There’s a little bit for everyone here, whether it’s sci-fi or a mix of action and psychic powers.   Though confusing at times, the story snaps by.  I’m looking forward to the second volume.

Grade:  B

Rated for 13+

The Guin Saga Manga: The Seven Magi Vol 1 by Kaoru Kurimoto & Kazuaki Yanagisawa Manga Review

Title:  The Guin Saga Manga: The Seven Magi Vol 1

Story by Kaoru Kurimoto

Illustrated by Kazuaki Yanagisawa

Publisher: Vertical

ISBN:  9781932234800

May Contain Spoilers

A devastating plague has descended on the land of Cheironia, leaving scores dead in its wake.  Resorting to folk cures, the populace murders loved ones to bathe in their blood, believing that this gruesome act with ward off death.  Guin, the leopard headed king, is desperate to find a cure for the plague.  Seeking the help of sorcerers and those that practice the black arts, he’s swept into danger and mysterious alternate dimensions.  Is he really the cause of the misery that’s preying on his people?

This sword and sorcery tale has lightning fast pacing, and is gorgeously illustrated. The mysterious Guin is brave and heroic, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself to ease the suffering of his people.  He’s an intriguing character, better at brandishing a sword than words. Snubbed by his beautiful wife because of his beastly guise, he longs for acceptance, as well as the safety of his subjects.  The Guin Saga reads like a Conan story, featuring the same stilted speech-patterns, and a hero who can’t really relate to women.  Secure in his own strength as a warrior, the gentler arts of conversation are beyond his humble skills.  There’s also little background given to anchor the events in to the story to Guin, who remains distant and disconnected from the reader.

The secondary characters of Valusa and Als don’t really  seem to serve much purpose. Valusa the prostitute does a fine job running away from monsters and looking terrified, but otherwise is just window dressing.  She makes a feeble attempt to seduce Guin later in the book, but since he comes across as having no clue how to react to women, it’s just a wasted effort on her part.  Als has the bad fortune to choose Guin for his victim, planning to murder him and steal his blood. Instead, he, too, gets to look terrified while he’s dragged along on Guin’s quest to save his kingdom.

The story may wander off in a disjointed collection of magical mumbo-jumbo, but the art is always clear and intricately detailed.  Each panel is elaborately rendered, and Kazuaki Yanagisawa brings painstaking detail to every illustration.  

Beautifully illustrated but confusing at times, The Guin Saga: The Seven Magi will appeal mainly to heroic fantasy fans.  

Grade: B

Rated for 16+

Review copy provided by Vertical