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…)


Strange, Funny Love: Hikaru Cho

Strange_ChoAs always, my brain and I have not stopped the great battle against the constant onslaught of books. Our dedication to the fight has kept the terrible mountain of unread books from growing too tall to fall over and murder me in my sleep, but we still have a long way to go before we can reach the dream of a tiny hillock of books waiting for us to devour them. But as happens all too often these days, the life outside of reading steals away any extra time I might have for writing about the struggle of the ongoing war. Still, I am ever hopeful and thus leave the books that have been read in their own separate pile: the mountain of unreported books. And now that mountain has grown to teetering proportions, leading to the terrible situation of two unsteady stacks that could topple over onto me and cause fatal injury at any moment. Something clearly needs to be done. And that something is, of course, writing about the damned books already.

So let’s start with something new and fresh and weird that I read when it first came out months ago. (Yes, the mountain of unreported books goes back that far…) My favourite bookstore did this lovely display where they arranged the books by main cover colour. So there was a shelf of shades of yellow, then green, black, etc. All with the covers facing outward rather than the spines, so you could really take in this strange rainbow. Although it seems like a weird way to showcase books, it was pretty effective. Or at least, it worked on me. I bought three or four books from that display, volumes I would never have found otherwise. Books like Hikaru Cho’s Strange, Funny Love, which was, yes, on the silver shelf. (A surprising number of silver book covers out there!) (more…)

Reportage: Kiko Urino

Reportage_UrinoMaybe I’ve mentioned this before, but the thing I really love about bookstores is the sheer possibility of them. You just walk in with nothing particular in mind, and then you find something. A thing you never heard of, a thing you never expected to run across, a thing you had no idea existed. You’re just noodling around in this physical space, glancing at the displays carefully crafted by the clerks while you are still listening to a podcast with half of your mind. Maybe you just came inside to kill time while you’re waiting for the light to change. Or maybe it’s cold outside and you needed to stop in somewhere and warm up before you continued on your journey. And the bookstore is right there. Well, maybe not so much in North America, sadly, but in Japan, there is pretty much always a bookstore within a stone’s throw.

And as you’re poking around mostly indifferently, waiting for your toes to defrost, you see something that you feel like you have to get, even if you’re not entirely sure why. This is the power of bookstores and the reason that I’ll never be okay with our slow erosion of the physical bookselling space in favour of the convenience and slightly discounted prices of certain online shops. (In fact, the only online shop I buy from doesn’t discount its titles and actually partners with brick-and-mortar booksellers. And they have a point card that connects my offline purchases! The best of both worlds!) I never would have come across a series like Reportage outside of that physical, meandering space. Especially since my online recommendations are totally skewed from all the weird books I look up for work purposes. (My work on Accel World has most sites constantly pushing SAO on me…) (more…)

Oishii Kaori: Ami Uozumi

Oishii_Uozumi.jpgA thing I like to do when I’m travelling is visit bookstores (duh) and ask about local authors. Places that are really pushy about/protective/proud of their local culture will generally have local author sections in many of their bookstores, which streamlines the whole process immensely. In Singapore, I found local author shelves in pretty much every shop I went to. Likewise, Okinawa. But in most cities I visit, there is no such area, and so I must ask the clerks. Sometimes, they are totally clueless and panic at the sudden question from a Japanese-speaking foreigner (I’m looking at you, Hakata), but most of the time, they are super knowledgeable and direct me to any number of potentially interesting books.

And when I was in Kumamoto over the winter holiday, although I was deeply distracted by the figure of Kumamon everywhere I went (including a stage show! For free!!), I did not neglect this little habit of mine and forced my travelling companion to stop in at a bookstore with me. I didn’t have to twist his arm too much; it was cold and he had to pee. So while he was off emptying his tiny bladder, I found a clerk to ask about local authors. And he was one of the super knowledgeable ones. He quickly swept me away to the manga section where Oishii Kaori was prominently displayed. The cover was cute, and the back cover copy promised gay times, so I plunked down my six hundred yen to take it home. (more…)

1122: Peko Watanabe

1122_WatanabeRelationships in manga, notably in shojo and josei, tend to be pretty same-y, in that they are usually between a girl/woman and a boy/man. (Which is fine. All you hetero people can sit back down. I’m not about to start denigrating your lifestyle here or anything.) And they tend to follow the same set patterns: boy wants girl who does not want boy, girl wants boy who does not want girl, mutual want but: obstacles, mutual non-want but: forced together, and then the rarest of beasts: mutual want, happy relationship. Of course, there are variants and various degrees of rapey-ness, but on the whole, we get a whole lot of one lady-one man in mainstream manga. And sure, I can turn to my beloved BL, but even there, the preponderance of work is one dude (or dude-creature) for one dude (dude-creature).

None of these relationship patterns are good or bad in and of themselves. It’s just, I am so interested in all the ways we human beings relate to each other and how those relationships change depending on the perspective we come at them from. So I get excited about work that presents new perspectives on relationship styles. Which is why when I saw 1122 prominently displayed in my favourite bookstore, I was intrigued enough to pick it up. It was part of a display of josei manga that had been featured on TV recently, and whoever did the featuring had some pretty good taste; Aoi Ikebe’s Zassou and Princess Maison, along with Ryo Ikuemi’s Anata were also prominently displayed. The little blurb for 1122 noted that this couple had their own way of doing things when it came to sex and love. They were *gasp* in an open relationship. (Or: official cheating, in the Japanese, which I love. Sounds like they went to city hall and got certified to cheat or something.)    (more…)

Hatarake! Suima-san: Maiko Dake

Suima_DakeNew year, new fires to put out. My 2018 has been off to a surprisingly and unpleasantly eventful start, leaving me and my brain with little time for our favourite indulgence: reading books and writing about them. Which is all the more disappointing given the staggering amount of books we have amassed in the last couple months in the land of bookstores, aka Japan. So many books! And more than a few that I would like to be writing here about. My brain has things to say about the printed page! But for me to write something on every single book I read that I found interesting enough to say a few words about, I would have to give up my day job of reading books and rewriting them in another language. And then I would have no money to buy the books to write about. So!

Perfect is the enemy of good—isn’t that what they say? So let’s give up on the idea of writing about all the books, and just focus on writing about some of the books. This seems infinitely more doable and a good brain resolution for the new year. Some of the books is still plenty of books. And Suima-san seems like a good book to kick off this brain resolution, given that the book is basically a New Year’s resolution in and of itself. (more…)

Tongari Boshi no Atelier: Kamome Shirahama

Atelier_ShirahamaFar too many of my posts here are basically me moaning about how some great Japanese book will never be licensed in English, so it’s a treat to come across something like Tongari Boshi, which is both a great Japanese book and something that is sure to be licensed in English. I am so sure this will happen that I had to google it right now to make sure it hasn’t already been announced. (It hasn’t, so this is where I make my customary plea to publishers: Whoever licensed this, please hire me to translate it.)

Tongari Boshi is the whole package: great art and a great story that bridges the gap between cultures effortlessly for a charming package that is just so very good. I only picked it up because Shirahama, who does work for Marvel and DC Comics as well as being a manga artist, had a booth at Tokyo Comic Con in Artists’ Alley a hop, skip, and a jump away from the TCAF crew. Even still, I wouldn’t have paid her much attention were it not for a member of said crew who raved about her exquisite line work and dragged me over to interpret for him when he went to talk to her.

Being more of a word person than a drawing person (hence my calling as a translator), I couldn’t really appreciate this incredible linework in the moment. I mean, sure, her illustrations were lovely, and she seemed to be able to control her pen, but that is basically what I expect from an artist, so I wasn’t getting all gobsmacked about it. But she was a very lovely person, and I always try to support the art of lovely people I meet, so I picked up her book when I got the chance. And then I ran right out to pick up the second volume and am now eagerly awaiting the third volume (February 2018!). (more…)