The best contemporary Japanese novel is a manga. Chris Michael at the Guardian Books Blog comments: "The ingeniously satirical Legend of Koizumi tells you far more about the country, far more entertainingly than any novel of recent years". The manga comic portrays the erudite but popular former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi as an action hero, and portrays Japanese international diplomacy as an intense mahjong game between titans ("simultaneously channelling and mocking the widely held Japanese idea that politics is a game played out between warring egos on a scale that dwarfs the common man"). The first episode of the anime adaptation is trailered on YouTube.
Miracleman: The Golden Age I've just been reading Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham's follow-up to the Marvelman/Miracleman mythos developed by Alan Moore. Unlike (say) the Superman mythos, where the hero does good but scarcely alters the status quo, the Miracleman story takes us into a world where the heroes have effectively become gods and transformed it (for instance, starting by dumping all fissile material into the Sun). Miracleman: The Golden Age focuses on the discontents and strange cultural developments of this Utopia. Supplicants climb Mount Olympus to seek favours from Miracleman. Unpopular and ugly children secretly worship "Bates", Miracleman's nemesis who destroyed London, whose ruin is preserved as memorial "Killing Fields". Miraclewoman takes a human lover, in a gender-reversed retelling of the Eros and Pysche myth. There are people whose paranoid worldview can't adjust to Utopia. There's Miraclewoman, again, who is unhappy in her super form but just as unhappy in her human persona, a plain and depressed doctor who most wants the love of her young daughter, who as a superbeing - though benign - is so otherworldly that she's incapable of tact, empathy or love. Though it does need knowledge of the backstory, it's a superb take - magical yet gloomy - on comic-book staples already transformed by Alan Moore. Lev Grossman of Time magazine included it among his Top 10 Graphic Novels (link and his full list).
ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies. I've mentioned before this open access journal from the English Department at the University of Florida; there's always something there of interest. The current issue - Volume 5, Issue 1 - has a number of articles on famous graphic novels. Graphic Whiteness and the Lessons of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, by Juda Bennett and Cassandra Jackson, looks at the neglected racial angle of Jimmy Corrigan; Watchmen: The Graphic Novel as Trauma Fiction, by Brandy Ball Blake, looks at how personal trauma is an essential driving force to the narrative to Watchmen, whose characters (in my view) personify the different moral stances - amoral, utilitarian, and so on - all under the banner of fighting evil; and "To the Stables, Robin": Regenerating the Frontier in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Theo Finigan, engages with the 'American monomyth' . This a reversal of the 'Campbell monomyth' - in which a hero goes out to adventure and comes back enlightened - to a motif where the hero comes from outside, defeats evil, then goes away again. See Heroes, previously.
Æon Flux. While skimming YouTube for tracks by Nightwish tracks, I found one used as backing for a tribute compilation for the animated series Æon Flux. This was a jolt to the memory; in the early 1990s, Channel 4 ran a series called Liquid Television co-produced with MTV. It featured a rather strange science fiction animation about an ultra-competent and acrobatic female spy, Æon Flux, with a fetishy costume and bizarre hairstyle, who in each episode was trying to thwart the plans of any enemy state (sometimes by infiltration, sometimes by direct attack with massive carnage). But every episode ended with her death, and the details were inconsistent; in some episodes, the enemy leader (now revealed to be called Trevor Goodchild) was her nemesis; in others her lover. In the first showing, there was no intelligible dialogue.
I recall a deal of discussion in the local SF club. It was claimed, for instance, that the repeated deaths and reincarnations meant the various Æon Fluxes were clones; or that the non-continuty and lack of dialogue were because the series had been hurriedly adapted from an anime series. Now Æon Flux is throughly documented, and all turns out to be intentional; the Korean-American animator Peter Chung "has said that this plot ambiguity and disregard for continuity are meant as a satire of mainstream action films, and his stories often emphasize the futility of violence and the ambiguity of personal morality". Whatever the reason, I find the series weirdly compelling; it has bizarre little touches that give depth to the dystopian world it's set in - details of characterisation and props that aren't directly pertinent to moving the plot forward 1. According to Wikipedia, the visual style was deeply influenced by the figurative paintings and drawings of Egon Schiele.
See Spike.com for the pilot episode, among others. There was a 2005 film based on the series. I missed it and don't intend to bother finding it; by all accounts it shoehorns the strangeness of the animation into a standard SF action movie with a linear plot.
1. "Gratuitous" details in fact; according Samuel R Delany a necessary component to successful literary characterization via three kinds of actions: gratuitous, purposeful and habitual. Animations tend to restrict themselves to the purposeful and habitual.