Manga to the Extreme
Drugs, Sex and Booze...all in a handy manga form by famed manga-ka, Minekura Kazuya
A few years ago, a relative unknown to manga published an adaptation about a Chinese myth of the Monkey King that has spawned a sequel, multiple anime series, countless doujinshi, dedicated conventions, stationary, games, radio plays, and the like. This story, Gensoumaden Saiyuki, has now hit the mainstream in the US, but the rest of Kazuya Minekura's work remains unknown and under appreciated.
Although she is not as prolific, as say, CLAMP, Minekura has a good amount of manga under her belt. Besides the prequel and sequel to Saiyuki, Minekura's creations have run the gamut from boy's love school romance to violent gang plots, and to one shot parables in full color. Even though her topics might vary from title to title, each one has certain things in common.
Her art style, of course, never wavers. It is very distinctive, enough so that someone who is slightly familiar with her will be able to pick out her art very quickly. Her characters tend to be lanky and well defined, with an attention to anatomy. They are also usually flipping the bird or posing in a suave manner, and they have a tendency to be scantily clad. Minekura doesn't shy away from drawing women barechested. In fact, she seems to take every opportunity to do so that comes her way. Her men can be equally shameless. The back page of her Backgammon art book features a guy with nothing but a loosely draped sheet and an ashtray as protection.
Subject matter is another area where most of Minekura's stories have a link. Her characters may act badass, but they tend to be fundamentally good, yet struggling people. She likes to torture her characters with their pasts, explaining their weaknesses and strengths through what they endure. In Saiyuki, Stigma, and Wild Adapter, the pasts of the protagonists continue to haunt them throughout the plot.
There is a very down to earth tone in most of what you read as well. With an exception or two, there is never a point of gushy romance without a struggle or a point of happiness without sadness right behind it. Throughout her manga, Minekura claims that the world is not a pretty place, and no one gets through life without a few scars.
She doesn't do this in a light way either. When Minekura writes about sadness, she writes about betrayal, murder, drugs and rape, all the things that make normal folk squirm in real life. Although she romanticizes these topics, she makes the consequences clear. "You don't want to pick up a weapon and defend yourself?" Minekura asks. "Well, I guess you'll be helpless when everyone around you is being slaughtered." The morals she carries can hardly be considered idealistic; she seems to believe that there is no room in this world for looking farther than the natural order of things.
And yet somehow Minekura seems highly idealistic indeed. Even though sacrifices are made and regrets may abound, each character is given a trait that helps him persevere. There is an inner strength in all of her protagonists that makes them appealing, a determined will to survive and to find happiness, wherever it leads them. Every character is distinct, not only artistically, but also personality wise, yet they all carry this same flame that is really the backbone of Minekura's writing. You can't help but enjoy a story where a man kills the person who terrorized him to save the life of a stray boy in his care. It's the emotional pull that takes her works from average to enjoyable.
With her publications, Minekura consistently puts in a lot of detail. Her books usually contain multiple pages of color inserts, and one manga, Stigma, is printed entirely in color, with a jacket similar to the ones that grace Clover. Besides the manga industry, Minekura has branched out as most successful manga-ka are apt to do and put her art on everything from napkins to character cards.
There are a few art books published under Studio Backgammon, mainly consisting of portraits of characters in her manga. There are also multiple doujinshi circles that write fan manga for Minekura's works for those who think three complete manga and two anime series aren't enough. For an artist who started her career with the same such personal publications, having others writing adaptations of her adaptations seems fitting.
Kazuya Minekura published Gensouman Suikoden at the age of 19, and has created a following that has catapulted her to fame in the manga circles of Japan. With many years ahead of her, she is an artist to watch as the depth and subject matter of imported manga and anime continues to improve.