Tonari Ni: basso

Tonari_bassoRejoice! The annual celebration of smut is upon us! It is our time to shine, fujoshi. And by shine, I mean of course, curl up in our houses and lose ourselves in the world of BL where men can love men in impossible ways, bending the laws of physics with their phantom peens and facing zero of the homophobia that still plagues the real world. Let us give ourselves over to this beautiful, schmexy fantasy, friends. Let us enjoy and celebrate the bountiful harvest of man love this year has brought us.

The prize-winning pig at this year’s festival is perhaps the long-awaited return to BL of Natsume Ono aka basso. Seven years after her last book, Naka-san no Nagare, she brings us this beautiful slice of salaryman love, Tonari Ni. My heart sings just typing those words. I love Ono’s basso work so much. While her artwork remains strong regardless of the genre she writes in, her powers of storytelling are honestly all over the place, and I too often find myself frustrated with her mainstream work, wondering what exactly she is trying to communicate to readers. And when I finally got the chance to translate her work with ACCA 13, that frustration was doubled and tripled as I read and re-read the unnecessarily convoluted tale of political intrigue during the translation process. So many meaningless and weird details that have zero plot impact and only serve to divert the reader in directions that are completely non-story-related. Why the district with the giant food? How can you cross a border and suddenly have strawberries the size of a person’s head? And why does being two metres tall mean you need a strawberry the size of your head? Continue reading “Tonari Ni: basso”

Saturn Return: Akane Torikai

saturnBoth surprised and not surprised at all to see the new Akane Torikai blurbed on the obi by another Brain favourite, Sayaka Murata. I knew she was a fan of Torikai’s work because well, we’ve gushed at each other about how we’re both fans of Torikai’s work. And blurbs really bring together all the different kinds of art in Japan—singers blurb novels, novelists blurb movies, movie stars blurb manga; the arts are weirdly supportive and interactive on this side of the ocean. But I always wonder how well known each of these artists are outside of their respective art form. Does the average manga reader know enough about Sayaka Murata to care what kind of manga she likes? Is this thoughtful paragraph on her impressions of the book and its themes enough to get the casual bookshop browser to walk over to the register and slap down some yen? I’m so curious about the overlap here. And wondering why we (mostly) don’t do this kind of cross-medium blurbing in the English publishing industry.

I obviously would have bought Saturn Return regardless of blurbers because Akane Torikai is fast becoming one of my favourite artists working in manga these days. And here is where I make my customary plea for an English publisher to please license something of hers so I can push it eagerly into the hands of all my friends, comics readers and non-readers alike. (Also, hire me to translate it, please and thank you!) Reading this volume, it struck me that her work really belongs with a “graphic novel” publisher rather than a manga publisher.

Both her art style and subject matter are so much more in the camp of the things that D&Q or L’Association publish rather than the books VIZ Media or Seven Seas do. And this realization made me wonder all over again if the label “manga” can actually be a hindrance to some books finding traction with overseas publishers and readers, especially when it comes to josei manga. Josei is usually tackling themes that aren’t part of the stereotypical North American definition of “manga”, which is often nearly synonymous with Shonen Jump style or Morning-style seinen comics. Maybe if josei was set free from the manga label, we’d get to see more of it in English?? (Yes, I am always dreaming.)

At any rate, even if it never sees the light of day in English, Saturn Return in Japanese is still…a lot. This should come as no surprised to anyone who has ever read any of Torikai’s work before. But let me warn you before we go any deeper into this particular work: lots of upsetting things in these pages, the biggest of which is probably the depictions of suicide, depression, and suicide ideation, but there’s also some sexual stuff which is uncomfortably close to non-consensual. If you’d rather skip out on any discussion of these issues, then you might prefer to read about longtime Brain favourite Aoi Ikebe this week and come back again next week when we will turn to less fraught themes. Continue reading “Saturn Return: Akane Torikai”

Yobidashi Hajime: Asumiko Nakamura

Yobidashi_NakamuraIt’s no secret that I buy a whole lot of books. This whole blog is basically a record of my inability to resist a tantalizing book cover. I do borrow from the library, too—libraries are the best and we should all support them however we can—but the way I live on both sides of the ocean is not really all that conducive to frequent library use. If I don’t finish one of my own books before I head back to Tokyo or Toronto, I can just leave it and come back to it upon my eventual return. Not so with the library book! Plus, I am a book nerd through and through. It is a such a great pleasure for me to own a book, to find the perfect place for it on my many shelves, and simply bask in its paperial beauty.

The other reason I prefer to buy my books is because you never know when you will want to read any particular book. I firmly believe that every book has a time, and it’s not always the time when you first come across it. I often buy books because a friend has recommended it or I saw something about it on Twitter, but I rarely have the time to read it the second I buy it. I’m usually reading one (or four) other books already, so the new book goes on the shelf of unread books to await its turn. Sometimes, that turn comes right away, as is generally the case for my favourite of favourite authors who I am always in the mood to read (yes, I’m looking at you, Ayako Noda) or the latest volume of a series I’m actively following (Sanju Mariko is still so good!). But for some books, it can take actual years for them to make their way to the head of the queue. Continue reading “Yobidashi Hajime: Asumiko Nakamura”

Veranda wa Nankofuraku no La France: Seiko Erisawa

Veranda_ErisawaI should be sweating profusely right now or at least needing to use the air conditioner because it is mid-July in Tokyo and that is the time of year when we all melt. But it is cold (I mean, Tokyo summer cold, though, so mid twenties) and rainy, and I am wanting to find just who is responsible for ruining my summer and yell at them like they are the manager of a shitty family restaurant that I can lord myself over for no reason at all except I ordered the unlimited refill drink bar. But no one (that I can find, anyway) is in charge of the weather, and so I am left chilled and vaguely unsatisfied with the whole situation.

The good part of this endless string of cloudy and rainy days (insofar as there can be a good part; I would really like to see the sun already. I think I’m developing a vitamin D deficiency) is that I am more inclined to stay home and get cosy with a book. I’m getting a lot of reading done. Most of it is for work, sadly, so I can’t write about it because: publishing industry secrets, and some of it I don’t want to write about (like the book that purported to be about drinking alone but was really just another food manga in disguise). But I’ve come across some real treasures lately—the print re-release of Kageki Shojo season zero is amazing, with previously unpublished bonus comics and an interview with former Takarazuka top star Kaname Ouki. It’s a deliciously fat book that includes the two original volumes of Kageki Shojo before the series moved to a new publisher, and it is such a satisfying treat to hold in your hands. Continue reading “Veranda wa Nankofuraku no La France: Seiko Erisawa”

Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe

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I often get annoyed at works of fiction in any medium that feature an almost exclusively male cast. Where are the women? Girls? Who is producing all the men in this strange world? They baffle me, these worlds without women. As I’ve said before, there are only two situations in which I will accept a startling lack of women: boys’ boarding schools and men’s prisons. These are places where the population necessarily lists male-heavy. Any other setting in a world of human beings better have some women who say something and are part of the action in a significant way or I am walking away.

But I have at last discovered a third world in which a mostly male cast is entirely acceptable: Heian-style segregated imperial court. After the first volume of the Yatagarasu series Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai, which was pretty much all ladies all the time, Karasu wa Aruji wo Erabanai presents the men’s side of the story. And not in a #NotAllMen kind of way. Abe simply rewinds time in a way, bringing her readers back to the beginning of Hitoe and retelling the story of that entire time period from the perspective of the men involved in the story. And since the court in this world (and in the flowery bygone days of a long-ago Japan) is mostly segregated by gender, the story of the men mostly involves men, much like the story of the women mostly involved women. Continue reading “Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe”

Nagi no Oitoma: Misato Konari

IMG_2656.jpgI go through these periods of feeling like a robot. Maybe everyone does? I feel like it’s hard not to, since so much of life if just doing the same things over and over again. It’s honestly inescapable, unless you go total anarchic fatalist and stop eating, bathing, and doing anything that goes along with the larger world around you. I mean, you have to sleep, you have to eat, and eventually you’re going to need to clean your body and your environment, or you’re going to end up paying some serious consequences health-wise. And most of us do these essential life things in a pretty ritualistic way. Like, I have eaten some form of toast, cheese, and fruit for breakfast almost every day for the better part of twenty years, maybe longer. At some point in my young adulthood, I realized that this is the easiest and tastiest breakfast I can prepare for myself in a minimal amount of time, and I just stuck with it. I enjoy a waffle or a bowl of rice with a delightful assortment of side dishes from time to time, but there’s no way I’m getting up early just to put fancier food in my face.

And then you generally have to go to work and do the job you have so you can pay for the food in your face and the place where you sleep and clean your body. Not everyone has to do this, but it’s the reality for a large percentage of us. If you have a job with prescribed hours, then you’re leaving home at a set time, eating meals on your set breaks, heading out at a set time, arriving home again at a set time. And then you do the things you need to do at home to be ready to do the whole thing again the next day. And even if you don’t have prescribed hours (like, say, a freelance translator), you still generally end up falling into some kind of rhythm, if only so you’re not totally at odds with the hours that everyone else keeps. You might love this job that sets your daily rhythms (I do!), but it can still start to feel empty and mechanical from time to time. Continue reading “Nagi no Oitoma: Misato Konari”

This Little Art: Kate Briggs

thislittleartI have been getting meta with my thoughts on translation lately, not just because of my work on Junji Ito’s latest, No Longer Human, but that’s certainly a contributing factor. Our thoughts on translation as a society have evolved a lot since the first translation of Dazai’s classic novel was published in the 1950s especially, but even since manga started getting mainstream traction in the 1990s. We all remember the terrible localisation decisions of those early days, like when the Pokémon crew were eating weird rice doughnuts in English, but there have been plenty of less cringeworthy choices that shaped the way English readers came to and appreciated manga and anime back in the day that were so different from the accepted practice of how we do things now. Like, we can use the word “manga” without any glosses now. It’s basically an English word at this point and most people under the age of the baby boomers will know what it means.

I find it fascinating how even though the source text will never change, how we engage with it in translation does change, and translators must take note of this or fall to the wayside. And since I am a translator and don’t want to fall to any wayside—I like my job and would prefer to keep doing it—I am ever conscious of the current state of translation into English, in North America at least. Some of this is definitely shaped by publishers—some want me to use honourifics and Japanese name orders, some want the text to be as North American as possible without actually redrawing the backgrounds and pretending the whole thing took place in Chicago. But these policies are also shaped by readers sending in their feedback and making their preferences known. So it’s a weird balancing act to be a pop culture translator, and of manga in specific. You’re always measuring your own sensibilities and desires when it comes to translation against those of the publishers and the readers, trying to figure out a way to satisfy everyone. Continue reading “This Little Art: Kate Briggs”