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Recently, there was some online ~discourse~ about whether Miyazaki films are “cozy,” with some people expressing appreciation for the quiet contemplative moments of bento box assembly in My Neighbor Totoro; and others pointing out that Princess Mononoke opens with a violent betentacled boar (to say nothing of Grave of the Fireflies).

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I find this discussion a fascinating litmus test, not unlike the question “who put the ottoman in Rob Petrie’s path?” It is possible for different people to squeeze wildly different levels of coziness from their memories of these films.

Reflecting on Spirited Away, for example, appreciators of quiet calm will smile warmly at the serenity of Chihiro’s train ride scene; audiences who are engaged by drama will reflect on what could be going through her mind in that scene, a ten-year-old contemplating the slaughter of her parents.

Few are the works that can dance on the head of that pin. This week’s comics span a spectrum of tensions, from a loosely coiled book about garden sprites to a tightly wound princess battle. My own preference is for stories that sit at the center, which is why I’ve given one book this week a rating of six out of five.

Thanks as always to Phoenix Comics for helping to sort through the many excellent releases this week!

THE SPRITE AND THE GARDENER

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It’s Steven Universe but with plants. Once, cute little sprite ladies took care of all life; but then humans arrived and started building walls and cities; and with that the sprites fell into a sort of lazy dissolute malaise. But that’s all about to change thanks to Wisteria, a Rose-Quartz-styled sprite who has trouble making friends and decides to help a human gardener who’s in over her head; and as the garden flourishes, we’re treated to lovely lush illustrations of plant life seen from every conceivable angle. The Sprite and the Gardener is beautifully drawn, and the relaxing plot comes with stakes that are so low as to be practically nonexistent. The characters are kind and helpful, and the occasional hurt feelings are quickly soothed. I hesitate to call it a story, exactly; it’s more a series of agreeable events told in sequence. Conflict? Tension? Drama? No, thank you, says this book; the opening pages explain that “things are still just fine,” a promise borne out over the ensuing pages.

Rating: 🌼🌼🌼🌼 (4/5)

Writers: Rii Abrego, Joe Whitt. Artist: Rii Abrego.

THE PRINCESS WHO SAVED HERSELF


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First published in 2015, The Princess Who Saved Herself gets a lovely new hardcover release that will delight young readers and their adult companions. A princess and a witch are musical rivals, and negotiate their differences with the help of magical creatures and, ultimately, practicing nonviolent communication. The tale is based on a charming song by Jonathan Coulton; though the busy plot is crowded with incident, those incidents are somewhat meandering and disconnected. As adventures go, this one’s a bit of a grab bag, a clear evolution from Coulton’s stream-of-consciousness. But I doubt that young readers will object to the careening conflict of a musical princess, a sneering witch, and a nicely rendered blue dragon. Though the book is flagged as “ages 9-12,” I would peg it more towards 6 to 9.

Rating: 👸👸👸 (3/5)

Author: Greg Pak. Illustrator: Takeshi Miyazawa.

MADE IN KOREA

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A real stunner, Made in Korea is one of the most intriguing issue-ones I can recall reading in the past year. In a future where some sort of plague has blunted humans’ ability to reproduce and the wealthy acquire lifelike robotic children, a tech-sector daydreamer has uncovered a computational algorithm of great value — and, it seems, great danger. He hides his discovery in a place where he hopes nobody will look; but his hiding place doesn’t seem happy about it. It’s a little bit The Matrix, a little bit A.I., a little bit I, Robot, and a little bit Children of Men, and it draws on the strongest elements of each: the vulnerability of the main characters, each of whom is desperate enough to surprise even themselves. The story interweaves the lives of a harried coder in Korea with a lonely family in Texas, keeping the camera wisely close to their personal lives while only hinting at the strife of the future in which they live. Those inner emotional lives are fascinating, conveyed with a dreamy waving-line visual motif; but the real star of the story is a character who is not even truly alive. Or is she? I cannot stop thinking about this book.

Rating: 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (6/5)

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Writer: Jeremy Holt. Artist: George Schall.

ALSO: TEEN DINOSAUR, A GOBLIN, and BLM HEROES

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Also coming out this week is the eagerly anticipated Reptil #1; I won’t be reviewing this one, as it’s by my good friend Terry Blas, but I will say that I predict great woe unto those who do not seek out this story of a teen hero who can turn into a dinosaur. Also take a look at Milestone Returns and Mister Miracle, two DC books featuring Black heroes with a thoughtful take on the BLM movement. There’s a new Finder book, part of a beloved sci-fi series with complex ideas about the stratification of human society; and I love the look of Goblin, which appears to be a sort of take on “The Hobbit but he’s a monster.”

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