Wata no Kuni Hoshi: Yumiko Oshima

wata no kuni hoshiMy old-time manga education continues with another member of the Year 24 group, Yumiko Oshima! Who I did not realize was a member of said group until I googled her name just now because I am woefully unaware of the action in shojo history unless it is related to Boys’ Love! Which maybe makes me a weirdo! I don’t know! (You guys don’t think I’m a weirdo, right?) (Right???)

I actually picked this title up because it was the absolute, all-time favourite of my friend M. when she was a kid. If someone I love loves something enough to get all misty-eyed about it in the middle of Mandarake when happening upon said something on a shelf of musty shojo, then it must be worth reading. (This is how I expand my reading world!) Although to be honest, I had a skeptical eyebrow raised. A story about a kitten who thinks she’s people? Yaaaaaawn.

But now that I know she was part of that whole lady revolution in manga, it all falls into place. And sure, it is a cat manga, a thing which I am usually not that into. Cat people, please don’t write me angry emails. I love cats and I look at my fair share of pictures of them on the Internet. But comics about cats always come off as schmalzy and far too cutesy for my liking. There are exceptions, of course, and I might put Wata no Kuni Hoshi in that category, if only because of the overwhelming shojo-ness of it. Continue reading

Monkey Business Vol. 2: Ted Goossen, Motoyuki Shibata (eds.)

Monkey Business 2

One of many things I like about my job is the fact that I get to meet and know a lot of really interesting people who do a lot of really interesting things with and about books. If you’ve learned anything from these ramblings of my brain, it has to be that both my brain and I are hardcore in love with books. Reading is both my full-time day job and my downtime passion, although admittedly the day job reading is occasionally mindnumbingly dull, like the corporate annual report I had to translate today. But more often than not these days, day-job reading and free-time reading are overlapping in fun and good ways. Like meeting with friend and colleague David to discuss the state of publishing in Japan and North America, thorny translation issues, and our latest favourite books over soba.

And because he is one of those really interesting people that does really interesting things with books, he had a copy of the new issue of Monkey Business for me. And even though my bags were already overburdened with books purchased and received from other really interesting people doing really interesting things with books, my brain sang a gleeful song and could not wait to get back to my tiny flat to drink the whole thing in. Because the last issue of Monkey Business in English was so much fun in so many ways.  Continue reading

Golondrina: est em

golondrinaYou are probably rolling your eyes at this point and muttering to yourself, “More est em? Come on!” And then the person in the next cubicle (I assume you are reading this at work, trying to just get to five o’clock without killing anyone in your office, but that guy who keeps breathing through his mouth while he scarfs down stinky shrimp chips is making that a very hard task indeed) adds “constantly talks to herself” to the list of things she is going to bring up when she talks to the boss about being moved far away from you. I certainly don’t mean to contribute to intra-office tensions, but you can’t blame me for continuing to devour her work when it is so consistently interesting and challenging.

When so many manga artists are focussed on the typical manga stories set in high schools, companies, and other institutions in Japan, est em is one of the artists always reaching outside the familiar and painting new worlds for her readers. Right from her first book Seduce Me After the Show, she’s been setting her stories all over the world in all kinds of worlds. And now she’s taking a serious look at bullfighting in Spain and it may be the most amazing thing she’s ever done. Yes, I know I am prone to hyperbole, but no, I think I am not exaggerating here. Continue reading

Shirokuma Cafe Book One: Aloha Higa

Shirokuma Cafe 1

So I’m back in Canada. My plane did not crash. And if you follow me on Twitter, you will already be aware that it was full of shrieking babies. Lots and lots of ear-splitting screams to keep me from slumber. Not that I generally sleep on planes anyway, but I do this thing where I pretend I’m sleeping because I have this strange belief that if I just lie still and keep my eyes shut, that is basically as good as sleeping. (It is not.)

With all the screaming, I couldn’t focus on pretending to sleep, so I had to cut that short and get back to reading one of the many books in my carry-on bag. And I had quite the selection, having spent two months doing almost nothing but buying books (well, I also did some interviews and stuff that you’ll probably hear about at some point, but you know that these are also book-related). The problem with books and travelling is that books are really, really heavy (don’t tell me to go digital. I love paper books, no matter how many trees have to die for them), and you get the same suitcase and weight allowance whether you stay in Japan for a day or a year. So I had little choice but to cram as much as I could into my carry-on and then pretend that it didn’t weigh more than the allowed ten kilos. (It did.) Continue reading

Jisatsu Circle: Usamaru Furuya

Ever since Usamaru Furuya was kind enough to join us at TCAF a couple years ago, I have been trying to read more of his work. He’s always been one of those manga artists that’s on the periphery for me. I like his work when I read it, but I don’t generally go out of my way to find it. And reading Erotics f, I’ve gotten to follow his Crusade of the Innocents, which is incredible in many ways and I look forward to talking about the books collecting the serialized chapters once I actually buy and read them. Suffice it to say, though, he is one of the more interesting manga artists working today (for me at least) and I’m interested in seeing where he’s coming from.

So when I saw Jisatsu Circle at the weird bookstore that has the weird collection of manga, I grabbed it and readied myself to dig further into the weird world of Furuya. I have to say that I actually feel weird myself talking about Furuya’s work at all. He’s one of those artists that gets a lot of art attention and coming from a non-art background, I have my doubts about my abilities to communicate just what makes his work so interesting. I mean, the thing that is totally characteristic of his work for me are the mouths. So many open mouths! With very nearly the same shape! Drawn almost identically! Seriously. There is a thing going on with mouths in Furuya’s work. It is almost hypnotic.  Continue reading

Kuslar: est em

You guys! est em is getting some serious traction over on this side of the ocean. I am seeing displays of her work everywhere, mostly because the second volume of Golondrina just came out, so there’s a lot of promo from IKKI, who are not an insignificant player in the manga industry. But even before that, her work in every BL section I went to was faced prominently, even for titles that have been in print for years.

It’s weird coming to Japan once a year or so. You just see these snapshots of the country and the manga world. Each year I come, I notice more and more est em creeping into the mainstream. Even just three years ago, at most bookstores, I had to poke around in the alphabetical section to find her in her rightful place after “u” but before “o” (We’re dealing with the Japanese version of the alphabet here, where “u” comes before “o” and “e” comes in between). But now, I just walk into my favourite bookstores and five of her titles are prominently displayed near the front of the store.

Interestingly, a lot of these displays are not particularly fussy if a title is BL or mainstream. They throw them all together and let the reader sort it out. Continue reading

Genesis: Sumireko Hoshizono

I know I can (and very often do!) order books from Japan and get my Japanese reading fix, but it is kind of like going to a bookstore vs picking something up on Amazon. Ordering stuff means knowing the titles that I want and getting exactly those, while being in bookstores means I can noodle about, pick up things I’ve never heard of and maybe find someone new to love. Both have their place, of course (I actually got a shipment from my favourite online bookstore this morning), but when it comes to random encounters, nothing is better than the casual noodle of an unfamiliar bookstore.

The books ordered and delivered this morning were all things I knew the names of, books I needed for work and didn’t want to lug home from the bookstore. But my love affair with bookstores has given me some happy treats, just because I spent the time in the shop pulling books I’d never heard of off the shelves. So in answer to everyone who thinks it’s fine that physical bookstores are going out of business all over the place: sure, we can still get books, but our ability to discover new things is going to be severely limited. So, you know, go to the bookstore already. Continue reading

Dokyusei: Asumiko Nakamura

I first came across Nakamura’s languid, lanky style in—what else—Manga Erotics F, with the serialization of her mystery story (You can see videos of her in action on an Erotics f piece here!) But this was the serialization of Utsubora and I came into it halfway through, so although I loved her ridiculously drawn-out lines, I couldn’t really decide on her storytelling skills. And you know where this story is going: Me, Japan, bookstore, books, oh hey!, Nakamura section. The only decision left was which book to buy.

Remembering Khursten’s thorough and deeply informative profile on Nakamura, I decided to check out some of her BL work in the form of Dokyusei (Classmates). Mostly because I already knew she had chops in the world that Erotics f caters too. But BL is a different, more finicky place and I was interested in seeing if she could balance the luxurious languidness of her beautiful lines with the sexy needs of boys in love.

Turns out? She can. Continue reading

Super Sad True Love Story: Gary Shteyngart

Being in Japan these days means I am reading a lot more stuff in Japanese. I spend so much time buying stuff at bookstores, I feel wasteful if I don’t read as much of it as possible, as soon as possible. But I did bring a few English books along, mostly because I thought they would be fun on the plane, but also in case I felt sad for English novels. Sometimes, I just get this intense urge to read a novel in English. I don’t know why, but it is a feeling that cannot be placated with any other kind of written word.

But honestly, I think I need to get over this feeling because English novels are letting me down these days! Among Others, the book by Jo Walton I read on the plane, felt like three hundred pages of some girl’s reading list. And this was a book I was really excited about reading, but in the end, it left me completely cold. Now another book I was expecting to really get into has left me feeling kind of meh. Interestingly enough, both books have several pages at the beginning dedicated to reviews extolling the greatness of the words to follow. A greatness that failed to materialize for me.  Continue reading

Bokura no Hentai: Fumiko Fumi

You guys, I am reading so many books! It is getting a bit ridiculous and also, why did I come all the way to Japan if all I’m going to do is read books? But the majority of the reading is happening in the train. I always forget how much reading I get done in this country. Back when I was working a real job in a real office, I was reading several books of one sort or another every week. Because that commute equals a lot of time, and for me, a lot of time equals a lot of books. So I guess this little maze of logic excuses my habit of frequenting bookstores and spending far too much money on books? Let’s just agree that it does and move on.

On one such excessive spending trip at the bookstore where I find all the interesting things, I found this interesting thing. Bokura no Hentai, or “Our Perversion”, with the tantalizing tagline “Yuri? BL?”. So is this girl-on-girl or boy-on-boy? Um, yes. I do want to know that answer. Mostly, I want to know how that ends up even being a question. So into the shopping basket this one went. Continue reading