Reiraku: Inio Asano

Reiraku_AsanoIt’s that time of year, friends. Maybe you’ve grown tired of my nattering on about TCAF, but like it or not, that nattering is here to stay as long as the festival keeps happening and I keep torturing myself with interpreting for it. Last year was actually the first time I didn’t have a Japanese artist to take care of full time, and it was such a strange feeling to be able to attend and be a part of the panels. I even went around and talked to exhibitors, bought books, hung out like I had nowhere else to be. So naturally, after a very laidback year, I was in for the exact opposite this year with guest Inio Asano. Which is not to say he was a demanding petulant diva! He was not! He’s actually a lovely person, and I had a great time hanging out with him for the five days he was in town for the festival. But Japanese guests have varying levels of English ability, which means I am more or less needed for interpreting. And Asano’s English is essentially non-existent, so it was the more needed part of that equation this year.

As is my custom when preparing to welcome Japanese artists to the festival, I’ve spent the last couple months reading everything Asano ever wrote and hunting down every last interview he’s done, essentially becoming his best and most dedicated stalker. (Don’t tell him that, though.) I even turned up a conversation between him and (another former TCAF guest) Usamaru Furuya in an old issue of Erotics f I have tucked away in the back of my bookcase. All this preparation proved very useful, especially the video of the live drawing event in Italy (which I watched enough to start to learn Italian from the interpreter), and Asano’s sessions at the festival all went really well. Or so I assume from the feedback I got from the audiences and fans who came to the signing sessions. And now Asano is back in Japan, I am not dead, and we have a book to talk about. (more…)

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Akachan Honbucho: Sachiko Takeuchi

Akachan_TakeuchiIt’s spring! And I think it’s for real, my good chums! I stepped out yesterday with bare legs. No tights! Although I did wear shorts under my dress because spring might have finally sprung, but it’s still not that warm out and all you people sitting out on patios in tank tops have some kind of internal thermal regulation issues that you should have checked out by your doctor. But the sun feels so good after what felt like an endless winter of grey skies even when I spent at least half the winter enjoying the blue skies and mild temperatures of Tokyo. I might have been born in Canada, but I am not a winter person, something that never fails to shock the Japanese people I encounter. It appears the common mythology there is that Canadians are all padded with an insulating layer of fat to protect us from our harsh winters.

Coinciding with the arrival of the spring breeze was, of course, a big old box of books from Japan. For work, I swear! I needed a couple Inio Asano books to complete my preparations for his upcoming visit to TCAF (you’re coming, too, right?), so I figured I might as well piggyback some new releases from favourite authors in that shipment and save myself the trouble/expense of bringing them back on my next trip to Tokyo. And one of my most anticipated of those new releases was Akachan Honbucho, or “General Manager of Baby”, as the English subtitle would have it. I wouldn’t actually mind reading a story about a general manager of babies—the concept seems wacky as hell and very open-ended (like, would the general manager have a staff of babies? Would all babies in the world report to this general manager? Or would it be more like wrangling babies? Organizing the babies for some purpose? Someone write this story for me.)—but Akachan is actually about a general manager who is a baby. (more…)

Boy Meets “Crazy” Girl: Natsuko Kawa

Boy_KawaI’m not going to lie here. When I saw the title of this volume on Feel Young’s Twitter feed, I rolled my eyes so hard, I’m pretty sure I sprained something. Oh, the girls, they are so crazy! They have all these feelings! They are lunatics who need to be reined in lest they—gasp—enjoy their lives however they wish without sternly judging eyes following them wherever they go! And I know it’s a Japanese person using an English word in a Japanese context, but the word “crazy” itself has just got to go. It trivializes and stigmatizes mental illness, and there’s just no reason for using it. There’s always a more appropriate word for what you’re trying to say. In the case of this title, that word would probably be “wacky”. Or maybe “over-the-top”. Both of these are a lot more descriptive of the girl(s) in question and don’t inadvertently point a finger at mental illness. Seriously, friends, let’s all think about the words we use (says the woman whose job is to literally think about the words she uses).

Despite my exasperation with the title, though, the cover was strangely compelling (those eyes! the freckles!! the thread glued to the painting like space hair!) when I saw it at the bookstore, and I tend to enjoy the stuff in Feel Young, so I figured I’d give it a try. Friends, I’m pleased to report I have no regrets. The scare quotes around “crazy” make the title more of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink nod to all the stereotypes about women hiding in that well-worn trope than the scare-quote free version I saw on Twitter, and this selection of twelve rather short stories is far from the heartbreak and manic pixie dream girl style that I was expecting. (more…)

Neverending Winter BL: Time Travel Edition

WinterBLThe cold has seeped deep into my bones, and I fear I will never be warm again. It is April, and yet it snowed yesterday (as I write this). I have had far more winter this year than I care to have in an entire lifetime, but still, it does not end. Temperatures remain stubbornly low, almost as if the city is mocking my desire for warmth and to bring my shoulders back down from around my ears where they have been since the start of this endless wintry nightmare. Much like in the midst of a bout of flu when you can’t imagine a time when you ever felt good or ever will feel human again, I have come to believe that shivering is my natural state of being and I will never sweat under the heat of the sun again. I’ll be back in Tokyo this summer, and I’m already fantasizing about the suffocating heat of the city. August in Tokyo is like living inside someone’s mouth, damp with hot breath, and I seriously cannot wait. Anything but this interminable winter.

So you can see that I am in need of escape, and the hotter, the better. So what better time to settle in wrapped in scarves and sweaters and blankets and read about hot guys making out and travelling through time? Time travel BL, my friends! What more of an escape could one want?? (more…)

Louvre no Neko: Taiyo Matsumoto (+ Saho Tono)

Louvre_Matsumoto.jpgWe haven’t talked about Taiyo Matsumoto in a while, have we? Which is a damned shame because he is a startlingly brilliant artist, and I wish he’d give us more chances to talk about him. But he is not the fastest artist, and while I have seen things (lovely things!) and know things (exciting things!), I’m not allowed to say anything about any of it, so I have kept my mouth firmly shut about all things Matsumoto since the heartbreaking end of Sunny.

But now! Finally! A new work out in print! Louvre (or Les chats du Louvre as the French subtitle would have it) is the latest in a line of comics commissioned by the great Parisian museum itself together with the publisher Futuropolis. Previous Japanese entries in this notably dude-heavy (one woman in the course of fifteen books? Seriously??) series are Jiro Taniguchi’s The Guardians of the Louvre (a very touching homage to which pops up toward the end of Louvre) and Hirohiko Araki’s Rohan at the Louvre, and it’s clear that Matsumoto with his European influences and interest in pushing the boundaries of manga was maybe the perfect mangaka to join their ranks. How he decided that the perfect story for the Louvre was the surreal, wandering tale of a herd of anthropomorphized stray cats and a little girl, however, will likely remain a mystery for the ages. (more…)

Cafe de Coffee o: Emi Yokoi

Cafe_YokoiI don’t really care that much for food manga, as popular as they seem to be these days, mostly because I’m a vegetarian, so the majority of the food that appears in their pages is utterly unappealing to me. I’m not one of those vegetarians who eats fake meat because she misses eating meat. When I see people eat meat, it’s like watching someone eat cardboard. I mean, sure? You can if you want? But it’s not actually food? So there’s pretty much nothing enticing for me about someone waxing poetic about the delights of pig fat in a bowl of ramen or something. If someone ever did a vegetarian food manga, maybe I’d feel differently about the genre. But until a book like that lands in my hands, I will remain heartily indifferent. (Ironically, I translate a food manga, and I have learned so much more than I ever wanted to know about cooking meat and seafood. Before I started translating this series, I actually was a reader of it but only for the relationship between Kenji and Shiro. I would just flip past the cooking pages. But now, I read them in the greatest of detail and watch videos on how to prepare squid…)

In contrast, I love coffee manga! There aren’t that many of them, which is a damned shame because I would read the hell out of more. For me, the best of the coffee manga is maybe the first one I ever read, Kohi Mo Ippai by Naoto Yamakawa. Just story after story of people taking the time and effort to make coffee and then sit down and enjoy it. There’s just something so relaxing about watching someone take a break like that. And there are so many little stories that weave themselves around the act of making and drinking coffee, of sitting in a café. It’s slice-of-life with a fixed centre: the cup of coffee. (more…)

Ningyo no Ishi: Seia Tanabe

Scan 13I’ve been sitting on this book for a couple months now because I couldn’t quite figure out what I thought about it. This happens to me more often than you’d think, given the generally strong opinions of which I am possessed. Forming those strong opinions takes time, and until I have really let something simmer in my brain, I can be pretty wishy-washy on a topic. And so it was with Seia Tanabe’s latest novel, Ningyo no Ishi. I liked it? Maybe? I didn’t hate it? I kept reading all the way to the end? But why? What was the point? Which isn’t to say the book isn’t good or isn’t worth reading. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was worth reading.

I picked this one up because Tanabe’s been on my mind a lot recently. She’s married to science-fiction author/former physicist Toh EnJoe, and that pairing has always made me wonder what dinner is like at their house. I mean, she writes ghost stories; quiet, atmospheric things about yokai and bakemono that go bump in the night. And he writes ouroboric stories about space and the future and who knows what else because sometimes I feel like I am not smart enough to read EnJoe’s work. I can understand how the two met; the literary world in Japan is surprisingly small (much like the manga world), and it feels like everyone knows everyone else somehow. But how did they make it to marriage?? And what must that marriage be like?? Who knows, maybe they’re both super into rom-coms, and their respective writing interests just never come up. But I doubt that, given that they jointly published a collection of essays last year called Shodoku de Rikon o Kangaeta, which roughly translates to “We considered divorce through our reading.” Uh. Is all not well in the land of Tanabe/EnJoe? (Yes, I have that book, and yes, I will almost certainly write about it when I have finished it.) (more…)