Tag Archives: Vertical Inc.

Sickness Unto Death (vols. 1-2) by Hikaru Asada, illustrated by Takahiro Seguchi, translated by Vertical, Inc.

Sickness Unto Death 1.2

Determined to become a clinical psychologist, young Futaba arrives in an unnamed city to begin college. Before he even gets to his lodgings – arranged through a friend of his father’s – he helps a young woman who collapses in a crowded plaza. While he can’t deny her strange beauty, he’s more struck by her lifelessness: her colorless hair, pale skin “like glass,” her “mannequin’s” hand, her body “so frail it could snap.”

When he reaches his lodgings-to-be, he’s not only surprised he’ll be living in a mansion, but that the owner is none other than the sickly young woman. “Miss Emiru suffers from a terminal illness of the spirit,” Kuramoto – the mansion’s butler and only other resident – explains. Surrounded by nightmares, monsters, and death (oh, my!), Emiru proves to be an irresistible psychological challenge. How could such a caring (testosteroned!) young man turn away from someone so gorgeously needy …? Doctor/patient distance be damned (uhhh, he’s still just a student, so that’s okay?!). Will Futaba be able to save his own sanity as he battles her past?

The title is a nod to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who originally published the text in 1849 under what seems today to be a comical pseudonym, Anti-Climacus. You probably don’t need to read the eponymous psychological treatise on despair to get full benefit of this two-volume manga. That said, while Sickness might be less venerable than its namesake, it’s also not without subtle depth.

Take names, for example – a whole meta-narrative is happening in their possible literal meanings. As a new student, our young man Futaba (‘a bud, a sprout’) is a vessel for potential when he presents himself at the Ariga mansion. There he first faces Kuramoto (‘the foundation of darkness’) who has faithfully served the young heiress through dark, difficult times. Futaba next formally meets Emiru (‘to look at the picture) Ariga (‘to be a picture’), who is a mere semblance of who she once was; Ariga could also mean ‘to be congratulatory,’ perhaps a reference to her outcome as a result of Futaba’s intervention.

What happens to Emiru certainly raises thought-provoking questions, especially about (possible spoiler alert!) so-called ‘true’ identity in the case of multiple personalities, and who gets to determine who is ‘real’ and who is not. After reading both volumes, try this: line up the covers side by side and ask – whether doctor or patient, what would you do?

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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pink by Kyoko Okazaki, translated by Vertical, Inc.

pinkWell, goodness gracious, looks sure can be deceiving: here’s your official warning – this dressed up girl is anything but saccharine-sweet, that pink-toned cover comes printed with an “18+” warning, although those turned-in toes actually do belie a twisted sort of innocence …

“I really love pink things,” Yumi confesses. “Pink just feels so happy.” She appears to be your average single office girl, who meets her (sort-of evil) stepmother fairly regularly for lunch (and Daddy’s money). She enjoys spending time with her much younger half-sister Keiko, but her best company off-hours is her pet … crocodile. No, really … he lives quite contentedly in her bathroom. The problem is, Croc tends toward insatiable: “It’s ’cause you eat so much that I can’t just work in the office during the day, y’know,” she tells him with obvious affection. So in order to feed her beast, she works as a part-time call girl!

Exiting from a tryst one night, Yumi glimpses her stepmother leaving the same hotel. She’s not alone … and Yumi decides to follow the young escort home. Haruo turns out to be college student whose habit of servicing older women is all part of becoming a better novelist, never mind that he has little to write about. But everything is about to change when Yumi, Haruo, Croc, and Keiko form an unlikely foursome. Teenager though she may still be, that precocious little sis turns out to be quite the catalyst for making things happen …

Manga artist Kyoko Okazaki, whose last title available in English translation, Helter Skelter, was quite the disturbing shocker, offers few soothing moments here. Renowned in her native Japan for creating adult manga filled with controversial characters and taboo topics, pink is another platform for the casually unexpected.

“This is a story about the everyday life and adventures, the ‘love’ and ‘capitalism’ of a girl who was born, raised and ‘normally’ wrecked (like Zelda Fitzgerald?) in a boring town called Tokyo,” Okazaki writes at title’s end. That said, you’ll find little of the ‘everyday,’ normally,’ ‘boring,’ here … all good news for international readers who will surely be clamoring for more translated access to Okazaki’s dozens and dozens of bestselling titles.

Readers: Adult

Published: 1989, 2013 (United States)

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The Drops of God: New World by Tadashi Agi, illustrated by Shu Okimoto, translated by Vertical, Inc.

I must confess that I’ve been loathe to post about this latest volume of The Drops of God – an intoxicating, ongoing race between faux-siblings to identify 13 bottles of phenomenal wines (“The Twelve Apostles,” plus the eponymous “Drops of God”) as chosen by their late legendary wine critic father – for utterly selfish reasons. I figured if I took the ‘head-in-the-sand’-denial approach, then this couldn’t possibly be the last available volume-in-translation in the series, right?

The late Yutaka Kanzaki’s description of his Seventh Apostle ends with an enigmatic reference to “the eternally to be finished Sagrada Família,” the Barcelona church designed by Antoni Gaudí which remains incomplete more than a century after construction commenced in 1882. The search sends adopted-just-before-his-death son Issei Tomine to Napa Valley. His chosen traveling companion is (surprise, surprise) Loulan, his hapa Japanese Uyghur guide and savior (vital to finding Apostle #2) who now apparently seems to be his assistant of sorts. Issei’s ‘brother’ and rival Shizuku Kanzaki considers the ‘new worlds’ of South America, South Africa, and New Zealand, but eventually flies to the Australian Outback with his usual sidekick Miyabe Shinohara.

While discovering and enjoying some of the new world’s best wine offerings, Issei and Loulan outsmart gun-toting merchants while Shizuku and Miyabe help prevent greedy lumber exporters from setting fire to precious forests. Returning to the Kanzaki mansion with such unique adventures … and a single bottle each, the elusive Apostle is about to be revealed …

In case you hadn’t noticed, New World (which doesn’t have a volume number) is out of synch with the other four published translations thus far; the previous volume (#4) was a search for the Second Apostle, but New World jumps forward five bottles (and at least as many volumes) to the Seventh. We can only hope that fab publisher Vertical, Inc. will both fill in, then resume, this holy oenophilic quest sooner than later … oh please, please, please?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Paradise Kiss (vols. 1-2) by Ai Yazawa, translated by Vertical, Inc.

Paradise Kiss 1.2

“If I’d known, I wouldn’t have spent all my time studying and done all the things I really wanted to do,” thinks Yukari Hayasaka, dramatically believing she’s about to die. As a diligent 18-year-old preparing for high school final exams, her academic goals have thus far masked all thoughts of anything else: “I guess there wasn’t all that much I really wanted to do.”

When Yukari wakes up to three concerned looming faces – fashion design students in search of a model for their upcoming runway show who have brought her to their atelier workshop to recuperate after passing out on the street – she panics and bolts, but not before she drops her student ID. After safety-pinned punker Arashi, anachronistically cross-dressing Isabella, and little-girl-who-never-grew-up Miwako fail to entice Yukari (rechristened Caroline) to join their ParaKiss (short for the titular Paradise Kiss) atelier, smooth-talking, beautiful boy George manages to track her down at school the next day. Showing up in his flashy convertible, he delivers Yukari to an “international-level hair and make-up artist” who transforms her. He returns her to the atelier, garbs her in one of ParaKiss’s frothy creations, and suddenly Yukari barely recognizes her glamorous new self.

Enthralled with her makeover, Yukari reluctantly, uncertainly agrees to be the group’s model, knowing that her exam preparations can only suffer. But she’s smitten with gorgeous, unpredictable, openly bisexual George, and his friends at second meeting are far more interesting than anyone at school – except for maybe Tokumori who has always made her heart flutter. As student Yukari morphs into model Caroline, she begins to question her decisions – or, more accurately, other people’s decisions which she merely accepted. Until now.

As volume 2 opens, the all-important fashion show is mere weeks away, and Caroline is forced to admit her growing truancy to her demanding mother. Banned from returning to the atelier, Caroline instead leaves home. Arashi initially takes her in, gently warning “Don’t get too deeply involved with [George],” but she can’t stay away from George’s luxurious apartment – or sharing his bed. Desperate to establish some semblance of independence, her job search leads her to Miwako’s older sister’s highly successful clothing company. Is modeling what she really wants? Should she stay with George? Why doesn’t her mother seem to care at all?

Already widely popular in its native Japan and far beyond in its various iterations – manga, anime, live-action film, too – Kiss is a more serious coming-of-age drama than the swirling, high-fashion illustrations might seem to suggest at first glance. [That said, the well-timed moments of meta-comedy (references to the fashion magazine Zipper in which this series originally appeared, warnings about page limits in the least appropriate panels) provide ticklish comic relief.]

Beyond the Cinderella-like story of fashion dreams about-to-come-true, Yukari/Caroline faces serious challenges to her relationship with her domineering mother and her absent father (not to mention her manipulative little brother), her growing sexuality and troubling relationship with boy George who has a few troubling attachment issues of his own, and (most importantly) learning to pay careful attention to her own thoughts and feelings in spite of other people’s distracting chatter. She’s about to take center stage … and she needs to be ready.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Mr. Reaper by Tatsuya Miyanishi, translated by Vertical, Inc.

While most of us all know our birthdays, not all of us know when we might pass from this life. “The only one who knows, / the one who decides the day / is me, the Reaper.”

Out in the forest, the Reaper points out a little pink piglet to unsuspecting readers, and warns, “‘The poor thing will be dying / in a few days.'” A hungry wolf decides he can’t eat the sick little piggy in such a state, and takes him home to nurse back to health … and then he’ll have his tasty meal. The Reaper watches, warning us that the wolf, too, is not long for this world, oh well.

No matter how diligently – and so sweetly – the wolf tries to make the little piglet better, nothing seems to work. But then the wolf remembers that his grandpa once told him about a certain plant that has the power to cure any illness. Day after day he searches, but the piglet’s condition only worsens. Through rain and wind, the tenacious wolf keeps seeking the magical red plant …

Not to spoil the ending (really!), but I have to confess that it’s happy. Because even when all hope seems to be lost, the Reaper can change his mind and a miracle or two can happen even for the most unlikely pair.

Japanese children’s book author Tatsuya Miyanishi makes his English-language debut with Mr. Reaper, although translations of some of his many titles into French, Chinese, and Korean have already established him internationally. His boldly colored, simplified drawings have clever, unexpected details, especially the watchful eyes of the Reaper as he witnesses the transformation of the relationship between pig and wolf – between prey and predator – develop into something else entirely. The book jacket/book cover, by the way, is ingeniously well-designed, as well.

The message for children – and their various adults – is certainly clear: in spite of (deathly) challenging circumstances, a little bit of heartfelt caring can make delightful dancing partners of even the worst-imagined foes – “‘[b]odies twisting, butts wriggling / to that silly ditty they’re happily singing.'”

Readers: Children

Published: 2012 (United States)

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On the Seesaw Bridge by Yuichi Kimura, illustrated by Kowshiro Hata, translated by Vertical, Inc.

Here’s the initial scene: an orange fox chases a grey rabbit, both heading toward an almost-washed out wooden bridge perched over a fast-moving river swollen from heavy rains.

The rabbit sees the bridge as an escape route, while the fox is convinced he’s about to get a tasty meal … but their collective weight on the single log (which is all that’s left of the bridge) dislodges it from both sides of the bank and now the pair must remain perfectly balanced to stay alive. Calling their respective friends for help brings nothing but crows who cause the single log to precariously teeter-totter, so that being alone with just each other proves to be the better, safer alternative.

Keeping the log as still as possible, the adversaries talk through the night, easing one another’s fears in the darkness. Come dawn, their combined efforts finally save them both … until once again, the chase is on …

Seesaw is writer Yuichi Kimura’s third book in English translation; he’s published dozens of stories in his native Japan. Interestingly enough, each of these three translated titles delightfully turn natural enemies into thoughtful friends … at least for awhile. In addition to Seesaw, Yuichi’s engaging 2003 adventures, One Stormy Night … and its sequel One Story Day, both feature the frenemy pair of wolf and goat.

As slyly entertaining as the writing is, both book designer and illustrator also deserve noted praise. As the log sees-and-saws, so does the print on the page – such a simple yet effective layout choice – as if the story, too, just might slide off along with one of the frenemies. And goodness, you can’t help but giggle over the ever-changing expressions, especially of the fox! Check out his blue eyeball floating in a shocked socket, his tail puffed to three times his body size as he attempts to navigate the falling, lurching log … on the other end, the rabbit remains plastered flat, even his long ears gripping with frozen intensity … meanwhile, down below, a curious catfish jumps out of the water for quite the spectacular view!

In a few short, vibrant pages, Seesaw offers a memorable lesson on perspective and cooperation, cleverly (and strikingly) packaged as a playful adventure. Looks like Japanese-titles-in-translation-boutique press Vertical, Inc. chose their first-ever children’s title just right!

Readers: Children

Published: 2011 (United States)

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Publisher Profile: Vertical, Inc. [in AsianWeek]

verticalRead Different. Read Vertical.

So there seems to be two basic types of readers of Japanese fiction: those who revere the classic writers like Kawabata, Tanizaki, Ōe, and maybe Mishima with an occasional contemporary foray into Haruki Murakami or Banana Yoshimoto, and those who have read Arthur Golden’s cloying, cringe-inducing Memoirs of a Geisha and think they’ve “done” the Japanese thing.

Thank goodness for Vertical, Inc. with its translated texts for the everyman – or woman or precocious child, for that matter. While Japanese pop culture – think anime and video games – has become ubiquitous in the Western entertainment industry, the Japanese book market in translation has been dominated for the most part by so-called literary classics. No more. Vertical, Inc. is changing all that.

From bestsellers to quirky beach reads, Vertical’s titles don’t require a literature degree, or a complicated cultural exchange. To give Vertical’s titles even more mass market appeal, all of Vertical’s designs are the lauded creations of a moonlighting Chip Kidd, who today is considered the publishing industry’s most celebrated book cover designer.

Proof came last spring when Vertical debuted with four fabulous, diverse titles. The Guin Saga / Book One: The Leopard Mask by Kaoru Kurimoto, is the first of a multi-part bestselling fantasy saga (up to 90 installments in Japan, with a total of 100 planned!) featuring a pair of platinum-blonde orphaned twins and a powerful, leopard-wearing warrior who saves them. Ring by Koji Suzuki, is a hair-raising horror story about a mysterious videotape that kills, which spawned both the Japanese film Ringu and its Hollywood remake The Ring. Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni is a love story of sorts about a troubled young woman who marries a young gay doctor and creates her own version of a family. Ashes by Kenzo Kitakata traces the story of a middle-aged yakuza who probably should have been The Boss but has stalled somewhere close to the top. … [click here for more]

Publisher profile: “Read Different. Read Vertical,” AsianWeek, September 19, 2003. A shorter version of this article appeared in the September/October 2003 issue of The Bloomsbury Review. Click here to view.


Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, .Translation, Japanese

Publisher Profile: Vertical, Inc. [in The Bloomsbury Review]

verticalRead Different. Read Vertical.

Move over Kawabata and Tanizaki. Move over Oe and even Mishima. Here comes Vertical, Inc. with its translated texts for the everyman – or woman. While Japanese pop culture – think anime and video games – has become ubiquitous in the western entertainment industry, the Japanese book market in translation has been dominated for the most part by so-called literary classics. No more. Vertical, Inc. is changing all that.

From bestsellers to quirky beach reads, Vertical’s titles don’t require a literature degree, or a complicated cultural exchange. As proof, Vertical debuted last spring with four fabulously diverse titles. The Guin Saga by Kaoru Kurimoto, is the first of a multi-part bestselling fantasy saga (up to 89 installments in Japan!). Ring by Koji Suzuki, is a hair-raising horror story about a mysterious video tape that kills, which spawned both the Japanese film Ringu and its Hollywood remake The Ring. Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni is a love-story of sorts about a troubled young woman who marries a young gay doctor and creates her own version of a family. Ashes by Kenzo Kitakata traces the story of a middle-aged yakuza who probably should have been The Boss but has stalled somewhere close to the top.

Like its titles, the company, too, is full of hip and happening – and young – characters. With the median age somewhere in the early 30s, Vertical is made up of just six determined New Yorkers (and one Japan-based representative) sharing a Park Avenue address.

It all began in 1999 when Hiroki Sakai, en ex-book editor at Nikkei, the Japanese Wall Street Journal, arrived on U.S. shores determined to be a literary agent for children’s and business titles. He called his company Magic Works International, but the magic was initially missing until he met Ioannis Mentzas (Yani to those who know him), a half-Japanese, half-Greek, Princeton and Columbia-trained literary type who agreed to be Sakai’s editorial director.

Together, they nixed the kiddie agency idea and decided on publishing adult trade fiction. They got funding from Sakai’s former employer Nikkei and the giant Japanese conglomerate Itochu and set out to find a marketing person: Enter Micah Burch, a Japanese-speaking Princeton-educated Harvard lawyer looking for a career change. “I do the company’s marketing, but I can serve as the in-house counsel, as well,” he laughs affably.

By summer of 2001, the core three musketeers were in place and Magic Works morphed into Vertical, Inc. Two years of incubation later, a few more employees, four titles out and four more titles coming this fall, Vertical is on the cusp of changing how the Western world reads: “Read different. Think Vertical,” they say.

“We want to bring books that Americans want to read, rather than publishing translations of prestigious titles in order to flatter their authors,” says Mentzas. “We’re not trying to educate people about Japan – that’s already been done and done well by others. The Japanese-ness of our books stops at the author’s name. We just offer good books with universal themes that just happen to be Japanese,” adds Burch.

And already Vertical titles are selling briskly – some, like Ring, have gone into multiple printings. “Our readers are white, Asian American, from the east coast and the west coast, male, female, young and old and everyone else in between,” says Mentzas. The company is already getting fan emails – from as far away as Europe and the Philippines. They’ve even got an admirer who writes from a Pennsylvania jail – about the yakuza tale, naturally. “I’ve never worked anywhere before that gets fan mail,” laughs Burch.

For now, the company is preparing for the release of its fall titles, four “new and strange and cool books,” says Mentzas. There’s two more installments of the fantasy Guin Saga and the first two volumes of comics of Buddha by the legendary Osamu Tezuka. Then there’s Outlet by Randy Taguchi, a kind-of whodunit about a writer in search of answers to her brother’s suicide, and Strangers by Taichi Yamada, a ghost story about a lonely man who may or may not have met his long-dead parents.

“Our titles are good fiction works that tread a fine line between entertainment fiction and literary fiction,” says Mentzas. “They’re not mindless, but they’re okay to read after a hard day’s work.” 

Profile: The Bloomsbury Review, September/October 2003. A longer version of this article appeared in the September 19, 2003 issue of AsianWeek. Click here to view.

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