107 Goshitsu Tsushin: Kashiwai

107goshitsu_Kashiwai

I know I always say this, but bookstores are one hundred percent the best, and as convenient as online shops are (especially when I am in Canada and needing Japanese books), they will never, ever take the place of actual physical bookstores in my heart. For one thing, there is the sheer delight of being surrounded by all those books. Shelves and shelves of stories and ideas that, in theory, I could read at some point. All the possibilities! Bookstores make me feel like the world is bigger than I could have ever imagined, while at the same time, putting that world within arm’s reach. So I will always love Japan more than Canada for this reason at least. I passed through three different bookstores today, not on purpose, just because they were on the way to where I was going. To pass through three different bookstores in Toronto, I would have to actually plan it out, like the whole purpose of the trip would be going to those bookstores. And while I am not averse to a bookstore being the purpose of a trip, it doesn’t really invite casual browsing the way the overwhelming number of shops in Tokyo does.

And that, of course, is the other reason why physical bookstores will always be the bees’ knees for me: the random discovery factor. I’ve stumbled upon so many great books when I was noodling around in one bookstore or another. And it is such a thrill, the most delightful feeling to have that spark crackle in the air between you and the book in your hand. This, you somehow just know, will be a book I love. And even if it doesn’t end up being your best beloved, you still have that thrill to cherish, the satisfaction of having found something. Maybe it is some weird hunter instinct buried deep beneath our brains full of book-learning, but that moment of finding and getting is so, so satisfying.

I am still savouring that moment with my latest find and get, 107 Goshitsu Tsushin. The combination of the title (Communications from Room 107, roughly) and cover were more than enough to send those sparks flying, but then the obi on the back announces “Only I remember what everyone else has forgotten”, and I was digging in my bag for my wallet. Continue reading

Kagakubu no Megane/Adana o Kure: Niboshiko Arai

img_5235 One of the things I was most looking forward to upon my most recent return to the land of the rising sun was the next volume of Ikazuchi Tooku Umi ga Naru by Ayako Noda aka Niboshiko Arai. I loved the first book so much that I was basically counting the days until the second one came out. I was even preemptively looking forward to the third book. And maybe the fourth. And maybe I was planning how I would read the series forever alongside my beloved Itoshi no Nekokke.

But then, tragedy! The story ends in volume two! I was honestly crushed. I wanted to keep reading about Kao and Ko forever, even if the story only hangs together in the loosest way. Start trying to untangle threads, and you’ll find yourself at dead ends. But Noda writes it with such charm and enthusiasm that she sort of pulls you in whether you like it or not. And her art! I could stare at her turned-up noses and blushing cheeks all day! And yet! It was all cut so sadly short at volume two. How would I go on, I wondered. What would I stare at all day?

So, as one does, I turned to the internet in this dark time. I opened Twitter in the hopes of coming across a particularly endearing picture of a cat or a dog doing something silly to lift my spirits. And I discovered something even better! A new BL book from Noda’s alter ego Noboshiko Arai! And then another one! Both coming out the same day! Even if I couldn’t stare dreamy-eyed at the dimension-crossing love of Kao and Ko, I could at least stare at some blushy boys getting busy. In glasses even! The world suddenly seemed bright again. Continue reading

Conbini Ningen: Sayaka Murata

Conbini NingenWARNING: Potentially controversial opinion ahead! Are you ready? Are you sure? Okay, here it is then…

I find the type of literature that receives accolades and awards in Canada to be very earnest and generally in a similar vein. I think everywhere in the English-speaking world, “serious” books tend to be favoured with the “serious” term “literature”, and that books written by men or books written about men or both tend to be deemed “serious literature”. But I feel like Canada has its own narrow and particular version of “serious literature”, and if someone is not living some kind of hard-scrabble life in the pages of your novel, you are not going to win the Governor General’s Award or even Canada Reads. There must be hard times or else how can we know it’s literature?

And this, friends, I find deeply boring. I don’t think you need Hard Times™ to make a work of fiction that is meaningful and relevant and life-changing. I even think that genre fiction is just as serious and meaningful as “literary” fiction. I know, I know. I hear you all out there, gasping and clutching your pearls. But I promise you, the way Ancillary Justice uses language to break down conceptions of gender is just as real and meaningful as the sparse economy of The Vegetarian in revealing the fundamental contradictions in the way society treats women. Continue reading

Princess Maison: Aoi Ikebe

Princess MaisonAoi Ikebe seems to be challenging herself to ever more difficult topics for the manga she writes. “I wonder if I could write a manga about sewing,” she mused to herself one day, and then turned the idea into six books of Tsukuroitatsu Hito. “That was too easy,” she said later, tapping her pen against her chin. “Now a manga about buying condos, that’s going to be a tough sell.” And then fast forward a year to me, picking up Princess Maison with a raised eyebrow. “A manga about house hunting? I don’t know.” Naturally, I devoured it and can’t wait for the next volume. Ikebe has a gift. I look forward to the day she writes a manga about the person who has to clean all the hair out of the drains at a salon.

Ikebe’s gift is really in seeing what’s going on at home, pulling back the curtains on the mundane to show us that there is a story in everything. That man behind the counter at the convenience store? He rescued a cat from the shelter, but she stalks him between the hours of nine and eleven at night, sometimes attacking him and leaving scars when he does not notice the malevolent light in her eyes soon enough. That woman you always see working at the izakaya by your house? She’s always there because she’s taking any hours she can get to save enough money to buy a place of her own. In this case, her name is Numagoe, and she insists that hers is not a big dream. She doesn’t need anyone but herself to make buying a house happen, after all. Continue reading

Lady and Old Man: Natsume Ono

Lady_OnoWe all know that my brain is a fan of Ono and her angled jaws and droopy cartoon eyes. She is one of the few artists to be tackled again and again and again in these pages, alongside such favourites as est em, Machiko Kyo, and Fumiko Fumi. So when I was browsing the world of manga from up on my mountain on cat island last year, my brain and I let out a little squeal of delight when we happened to notice that the new issue of Ultra Jump contained in its pages the latest from Ono. The squeals grew louder when I saw that the story was set in Los Angeles in the 1960s. I love the hints of retro style she’s been toying with in ACCA 13 Ku, and the idea of a whole series set in that period filled my brain and my heart with glee.

So naturally, I ordered that issue of Ultra Jump and waited with bated breath for it to be delivered to me and the cats. (The cats did not care about it, though. Not until I ripped out pages to ball up and toss around the house for them to play with. But I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t think it was the content of those pages that got them running around with murder in their eyes like that.) (Don’t worry. I only ripped out the pages once I was finished reading the magazine and was ready to throw the whole thing in the old oil drum that substituted for a recycling bin on cat island. Because there is no recycling on cat island. We just burn everything. In an old oil drum out back.) Continue reading

Color Recipe: Harada

Color Recipe_HaradaCelebrate, my fellow fujos! Today is that magical day of days! The day when we are free to openly ogle and revel in the beauty that is the love of boys! If you are not a fujo, then maybe just come back during my brain’s regular(-ish. Sorry for the light posting as of late!) Friday battles. Or stick around and see everything you’ve been missing with boy lover Harada! Be warned, however, that in the spirit of the holiday, things get a little unsafe for the work environment below. 

I’ve long been attracted to Harada’s style, in which half the characters look vaguely like pixies, thanks to upturned eyes, pointed noses, and sharp chins. And her (their? Do we know?) work has been everywhere I look for the last little while; she’s clearly the next rising star of the BL world, soon to crossover into the mainstream where her talent for drawing dudes sexing each other up will be grossly underused. But for one reason or another, I never bothered to actually pick up any of her books. (Both reason and another are probably I already have a mountain of books waiting to be read.) Which is an important note to would-be authors: sometimes, people will love your stuff, but they just don’t get the chance to read it. That is a sad thing, but it’s not a reflection on you or your talent. Continue reading

Shonen no Na wa Gilbert: Keiko Takemiya

GilbertI freely confess I had no idea what this book was until I peeled the plastic off and started reading. I simply saw Gilbert coolly gazing at me from the cover, the title, and the author’s name, and I could not pick it up off the shelf at the bookstore fast enough. I slapped some money down on the counter and raced out of the shop with my precious treasure, wondering if it was perhaps a new comic by Takemiya, a spin-off of the beloved Kaze to Ki no Uta. Whatever it was, I was going to read it. And I was pretty sure I was going to love it, because of all the Forty-Niners, Keiko Takemiya is the star in my sky.

And I did read it. And love it. So no surprises here. But rather than a spin-off or some other manga tangentially related to the beautiful and troubled Gilbert, Takemiya surprised me with a biography of Kaze. I’ve never read the biography of a work of art before. I’ve actually never heard of a biography of a work of art before. But this is a thing that should be done more often because it was absolutely fascinating. Takemiya guides us from her arrival in Tokyo at the age of twenty in 1970 through to the start of the serialization of Kaze in 1976, offering many a glimpse into not just herself and her own life and upbringing, but also into the manga industry at the time and the state of Japanese society in the 1970s.

I knew bits and pieces of this story: how Takemiya tried for years to get it published, how it was rejected over and over (as the cover notes in large font), how it was too racy for its time, how editors believed girls did not want to read about boys in love. But this is honestly not even half of the story. Takemiya’s journey to finally serializing what she calls her lifework is more than just a battle against the legions of male shojo manga editors who could never understand what girls actually wanted to read, it’s a battle against herself, her own insecurities and shortcomings as an artist. It’s a young woman finding herself and her voice that should really be read by all aspiring artists if only to reassure themselves that even the greats are plagued with the inner voice of “no”. It’s also a beautiful tale of friendship and women coming together against a male-dominated industry to assert their voices and lift each other up. So yes, Shonen basically has it all. Continue reading