Mori Mite: Shizuka Nakano

Morimite_NakanoWhen I first came across Nakano’s work, I vowed to read more of it, so taken was my brain with her retro stylings. And then…I just forgot? There are so many books for my brain to battle in this world, it’s easy to lose track of a particular artist, especially when that artist seems to only write for the alt-manga magazine Ax, which is not available in your average bookstore. The bookstore by my house is basically your average bookstore, and while I do make trips to better-stocked/weirder bookstores, the sad fact is that I am going to miss some of the more indie stuff unless I’m actively hunting it down. And while I really liked Shisei, I didn’t like it enough to have a Nakano radar implanted in my brain like I did with est em or Miki Yamamoto or Fumiko Fumi. Maybe because Shisei interested me more in terms of style than story. Or maybe because it is a collection of shorts, and I tend to fall harder for longer stories.

After stumbling upon Mori Mite at one of those weirder bookstores I frequent, I feel like it may be mostly the latter. Because although this story clearly started with the first chapter of this book as a one-shot, it must have been well received enough to flesh out into a book-length project. The one-shot “Mori no Machibari” is a little trip into the woods in France where a hiker stumbles into a fairy ring and finds a group of pixies. He helps them untangle the ribbons of their maypole, but accidentally insults them, and they send him back to the woods of the real world. This little story provides a jumping off point for the rest of the book; Nakano takes us back into those woods to show us just what is going on through protagonists Luc and Kazushi. Continue reading

Makuko: Kanako Nishi

Makuko NishiHot off her win for the Naoki Prize, Nishi brings us a tale of a child unwilling to grow up in a small nowhere town surrounded by a bunch of weirdos. When I got to the bit about how everyone is in everyone else’s business, complete with widely known secret love affairs, I thought that maybe I was reading Gyokou no Nikuko-chan from the perspective of the child of the man the titular Nikuko has an affair with. I was honestly baffled by the very strong resemblance to the last novel I read by Nishi.

To be fair, she’s written five other books between that one and this one, including the previously mentioned Naoki Prize winner Saraba!, but it just happened that I read none of those in-between books, so the similarities between Makuko and Nikuko were perhaps more startling to me than many of her other readers. Although who knows, maybe her last five books also feature children growing up in small-town Japan as their protagonists, and Nishi is in a rut she might want to jump out of already.

Fortunately, those big picture details that make Makuko so similar to Nikuko are surface things for the most part, and a dozen or so pages in, I was engrossed in this story without constantly wondering if it was a new part of that story. There are still a lot of the same themes that came up in Nikuko: grown-ups are bullshit, but it’s okay because everyone is bullshit in a different way; childhood is a weird and difficult place where it’s hard to be who you are and still exist in the world in any capacity; Nishi is again using childhood as a stand-in for life in general. But she’s also reaching further in a different direction, pushing us to survive, to see the beauty in this world and ourselves, the beauty in the fleeting pain of our existence. This book is basically two hundred and fifty pages of sakura blossoms. Continue reading

Bokura no Hentai—The End: Fumiko Fumi

IMG_5794So it had to end. Everything that begins ends, except Crest of the Royal Family. That series will outlive us all. But Fumiko Fumi is not writing an epic, time-travelling drama featuring pharaohs and American heiresses, and so her tale is not one that can continue through the ages. And of course, I knew that when I started reading Bokura no Hentai, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw the final volume sitting on the shelf. I stared at it for a minute, in slight disbelief, even though I saw Fumi tweet about the last chapter. But perhaps it came too soon; I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Volume 10 languished in the pile of books I brought back with me from this last trip to Japan. What if it’s terrible? I asked myself. What if it’s too beautiful and I cry all the tears? Clearly, I could not be trusted to read this volume on public transit.

And for a series I have enjoyed/thought about this much, I decided that the best thing to do was to go back and read the whole thing from the beginning. After all, I read the first volume in 2012; my brain could do with a refresher on the details. And maybe reading it all in one go, I’d find some new insights into the whole saga of Marika, Yui, and Palow. I’m not sure how much insight I gained, but it was a pleasure to read an entire series from start to finish without interruption. Reading it all in one go really made me realize how seamless it is, how Fumi was thinking ten volumes ahead right from the start. Well, maybe nine. The last volume isn’t quite everything it could have been. Continue reading

A-ko-san no Koibito: Akino Kondoh

ScanIt comes as a surprise to exactly no one that I am a pretty big fan of Akino Kondoh’s work. And not just her manga, but also her more art-farty stuff like her Kiya Kiya animation and series of drawings and paintings. I’ve been lucky enough to translate two pieces by her for Words Without Borders, and I will rattle on and on to anyone even remotely connected with the world of comics publishing about why they should publish her work already. For instance, not only is she super talented but she also lives in New York and speaks English, making her far more accessible for promotion duties like comics festivals than your average Japanese manga artist. But her work has languished in the realm of “alt-manga,” a land where Western publishers fear to tread. What to do with comics where buttons turn into bugs?! There’s no market for that, they say. (But there is, I argue. I am that market. I will buy all the comics and force them on my friends if that’s what it takes.)

So I am pleased that Kondoh is helping me out in my mission to get her books published in English by drawing what is possibly her most mainstream and accessible work yet, A-ko-san no Koibito. It’s josei! We all want to publish more josei, right?! Ladies got to represent! It’s published in Comic Beam, a step closer to actual mainstream manga than magazines like AX where she was previously published! It’s two books going on three, which means it’s popular enough with the readers for the magazine to keep it going! Come on, Western publishers, I don’t know what else this woman has to do to get you to publish her books in English. Continue reading

Nekojou Mu-Mu: Machiko Kyo

Nekojou MuMu_KyoCan I pander to you, fellow book battler? Can I finally join everyone else on the internet and talk about cats? Will you respect me less if I talk about cat manga? Will it change our relationship? I promise not to post cute cat photos. (Unless they happen to be included in the cat manga.) (Which they do.) It’s just that one of my favourite artists, Machiko Kyo, wrote a whole book of stories about her adorably standoff-ish and utterly beautiful princess of a cat, and I am powerless before this combination of artist and subject matter.   

I have spent any number of words extolling the virtues of Kyo’s delicate watercolour style/watercolour-like use of markers, her warm, loose lines, and minimal backgrounds. I continue to be baffled/not baffled at the fact that she still has had absolutely nothing published in English. The brain part of me is the one that’s baffled: her work is so lovely and engaging; she writes things across a wide range of genres, so she really does offer something for everyone; and now she’s written a manga about her gorgeous and ridiculously expressive cat. Why are English publishers not lining up at her door?? But the rest of me, the part of me that works in the manga publishing industry in North America, is not baffled in the slightest. Kyo doesn’t make stereotypical “manga”; her work ends up being “comics in translation”, which is a much harder sale to make. And you know, economic realities, blah blah. Continue reading

Totsukuni no Shojo: Nagabe

Totsukuni no ShojoThis is one of those books that I spend half of my life in Japan for, something I would have never found if I was just ordering things online, a book that makes a good argument all by itself for the importance of actual physical bookstores. Because I’d never heard of Nagabe, never seen this title anywhere online before, but when I wandered into the bookstore near my house that is for some reason also a stationery store and a DVD store, I saw Totsukuni sitting there on the shelf, and I was simply intrigued. The horned black caped character, the little girl in white, the title in roman letters (which I thought was perhaps Icelandic, but which turns out to be the name of an Irish song), it was strangely appealing. And although I resisted at first (who is this Nagabe? I asked myself doubtfully), the possible Scandinavian influence won me over. (I think Scandinavia is on the verge of booming here? At any rate, there’s a sweets place called “Fika” now.)

And after this chance meeting, I am one hundred percent in love! I’m waiting far too eagerly for book two in this series, even though the splash page at the end of book one informs me that book two will not be available until September. But friends! I cannot wait that long! Totsukuni is beautiful and weird and like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s a fairytale, in the old school style, a scary and entertaining cautionary tale featuring an adorable child faced with evil and impending doom. Continue reading

13 Gatsu no Yurei: Suzume Takano

Takano_13GatsuWorking on this film that I have been lucky enough to work on, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who identify as “josou” lately. And that has made me take a closer look at this word and just what it means exactly. The most basic of definitions is “a man dressing in women’s clothing,” but of course, the basic definition never completely covers the way a word is actually used out in the wild. So yes, josou is a man dressing as a woman, but what kind of man? What kind of woman? Are you gay if you are josou? Are you trans? Are you somewhere in the middle? Are you just a dude who likes to wear a skirt sometimes? I like the neutrality of the word “josou”, the non-sexual specificity of it. I like that it has an equally non-sexually specific counterpart, “dansou”, for those ladies of various identities who would like to look more dudely sometimes, or maybe all the time.

You can be josou and also a totally straight guy who lives in the straight world just fine, like Kiri, one of the protagonists of 13 Gatsu no Yurei. He is just a guy who wears a suit during the day to his totally regular company job, but he likes to dress up like a girl and go hang out around town on his days off. And it turns out he has a twin Neri, who is a super tomboy. She would just buy her clothes in the men’s department if they only carried her size. Her friends and the people around her are always urging her to be more feminine, commenting on how cute she’d look in a skirt. But she is having none of it.

And then she meets Suou on a group date, and he is exactly her type. She wants him to think she is his type too, but she has been down this road before. The guys she likes always like the cute, girly-girls. But when she is reunited with Kiri after a few years of estrangement, she realizes the situation is a little different from what she was imagining. The obi for this one really says it all: Girl X Boy X Josou Boy, a love triangle. Continue reading