USCA Volume 2: Keita Mori (ed.)

USCA2The cover of USCA (pronounced you-ska, as the silver katakana over the roman letters informed me) notes in English that it is an “independent manga magazine for the next generation”. Which leads me to assume the next generation speaks English? And also to hope that I will see some weird and interesting new manga being done in Japan right this second that is not welcomed by the old boys’ club that is AX. (Don’t get me wrong, I like AX, but it can get pretty dudely and punk rock snobby.) I ran across volumes two and three of USCA at Village Vanguard (the store where you will always run across a weird book you’d never heard of, but will probably like), and I got stuck on which one to pick up. They both promised me indie manga, they both had Tsuchika Nishimura’s name on the cover, and both had pretty interesting cover designs that made me want to read what was inside. But when I saw that volume two posed the question, “Don’t you wonder sometimes ‘bout sound and vision?”, my choice was made.

Unlike the serialization format of most manga magazines, USCA is made up entirely of one-shots (or at least this volume is). Seventeen authors penning seventeen different versions of the next generation’s manga. Like any anthology, it can be a little touch and go; some stuff is great, some is interesting but fails in the execution, and some is not anything I’ll be thinking about ever again. Continue reading

Tsukuroitatsu Hito: Aoi Ikebe

Tsukuroitatsu Hito_Aoi IkebeHere is a thing you may not know about me: I really like sewing. I know, I know, all I do here is jabber about books, and my job is reading books and turning them into books in English, but I actually do things that are not related to books. And one of those things is making clothes. When I was little, at least half of the clothes I wore were made by my mom, and I spent a *laht* of time watching her make them and learning by osmosis. I got my first sewing machine for my ninth birthday (because I asked for one; it was not one of those horrible you-should-be-a-lady gifts your grandma gives you), and by the time I reached junior high school and my first Home Ec class, I had been making my own clothes for a few years. So when in that first Home Ec class, my teacher made us sew on paper to learn to sew in a straight line, I was rolling my eyeballs so far back in my head, they spun right around to the other side.

When I moved to Japan, I couldn’t take my machines with me (that first move across the ocean was supposed to be a couple of years at most, so I only took whatever would fit in my allotted two suitcases), but you can’t keep a seamstress down. Within a couple of months, I was borrowing the machine of a teacher I worked with to sew new covers for the hideous dusty rose sofa I inherited with my rural apartment. And that was my first contact with Japanese sewing culture, which is, like so many other aspects of Japanese culture, both similar to and totally different from the sewing culture I was familiar with. Something so simple as the pedal I was used to pressing on with my foot turned into a lever I pushed on with my hand. Because J-peeps were more likely to be sitting on the floor. It was weird.

But perhaps now you can understand the pure delight I felt at stumbling upon Tsukuroitatsu Hito, a manga with a woman sewing on the cover. At last, my true loves of books and sewing had come together! The only question I had when buying it was why I hadn’t I learned about it sooner since volume one came out in 2011 and I only came across it last year. They even made a movie about it! It is a thing, this manga. A manga about sewing. Continue reading

Comitia 30th Chronicle Volume 1: Kimihiko Nakamura (ed.)


For their thirtieth anniversary, in addition to delightful treats like a sake set designed by Natsume Ono (the sake in which was delicious, by the way), beloved doujinshi event Comitia released three books cramjammed full of comics by a few of the many artists who have exhibited at the quarterly event over the last thirty years. And all three books are massive, which meant that I had to limit myself to just one for fear of breaking my back on the train home. Volume one clocks in at just under seven hundred pages on some pretty nice paper bound quite beautifully in a sturdy cover stock featuring the covers of the different Comitia guides over the years, covered up by a lovely cream jacket with a translucent peek at the color cover below it. A pretty (and heavy) package for a whole lot of comics action. (Apologies in advance for terrible images. I can’t open the book far enough to get it to lay anywhere near flat on my scanner.) Continue reading

Otomen: Aya Kanno

Otomen_cvr_01_FINAL.inddTCAF! It happened! I’m not dead! All three are cause for celebration. As is the fact that I was able to find my way back to my own personality after an intense week of interpreting. Day after day of speaking for someone else tends to bring about an identity crisis in me. I have all these conversations with so many people, but I am not actually a participant in any of them; I’m just a voice. I always find this middle ground between two languages and two people to be such a strange place, especially given that the conversations I assist literally pass right through me. I generally have no recollection of anything anyone said. I’m too busy talking for everyone in the room to spend any energy on remembering what anyone said.

Which is why I’m glad I got to spend some time outside the interpreting context with TCAF guest and Otomen author Aya Kanno. At dinners, parties, a trip to Niagara, all the many extra-festivular events we took part in, I got the chance to have a tiny bit of self and hear her considered ideas on her work and gender and her growth as an artist, on top of the usual casual conversation you might expect to have at such extra-festivular events. One particularly interesting discussion we fell into was in relation to translation and the usage of words. I’m translating her latest work Requiem of the Rose King (which I will not be discussing here, given the obvious conflict of interest, but it is pretty amazeballs and I would totally recommend it if only for the adorable boar), and it was the first time she had had the chance to talk with a translator of her work (and my second time being able to talk with the author of a work I translated) (est em, in case you’re wondering). So we spent our time in the green room before panels talking about words and Shakespeare and the nuances of translation. Continue reading

Watashi no Naka no Otoko no Ko: Nao-Cola Yamazaki


Have you guys noticed how many great books there are? There are so many great books! I have to read so many books for my job that every so often, I forget that books are great because it is a job and it can be a chore. So then I will start grumbling to myself about how I have to read all these stupid books (even though they are generally pretty great books I am reading for this job of mine), and that is when I know it is time to recharge my reader self. By reading books, of course! But not work books. When I start feeling annoyed at the reading part of my job, I go to the shelf of unread books and pull something made of pure joy from it. A book that I do not have to read for my job, but rather one I have to read because it is just too great not to read. Ancillary Sword, the sequel to Ann Leckie’s magnificent Ancillary Justice, was recently one such book (and maybe I will write about that or maybe I will wait for the third book and discuss overall thoughts on the trilogy). Another was Nao-Cola Yamamzaki’s equally delightful Watashi no Naka no Otoko no Ko (The Boy Inside Me).

I actually read this one back when it came out in 2012 because I love Yamazaki’s writing, and any book with a title like that is just pandering to my interest in explorations of gender. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t write about it then; maybe I was in a deadline crunch? At any rate, I am writing about it now. I had a meeting earlier this month (about books, of course), and this title came up. And then suddenly, the whole book came flooding back to me, and I knew that I needed to read it again. I knew that it was one of those great books that reminds me of all the reasons I love reading and the fact that I get paid to read for a living. Continue reading

Bijutsu Techo: Boys’ Love

Bijutsu Techo

I am the most belated of book readers. I cannot and will not deny this. Even when I race out to the bookstore and pick up a book the day it is released, even if I then run home with it and dig in immediately, once I finish it, I’ll set it down on my desk with the best of intentions. I’m going to write about this one tomorrow! I’ll say to myself. And then tomorrow will come, and my hands will be super sore from a long day of typing out the translations that pay my rent, and I’ll look at the book on my desk and think, Okay, I will definitely get to that tomorrow. Yup! But the next day, just as I’m about to dig in and start writing ye olde thoughts, a friend will line me for drinks, and I will give that book a lick and a promise before racing down to my neighbourhood pub. Where I will no doubt talk about this book. And oh! What thoughts I’ll share with that friend! 

And then I’ll get used to seeing the book on my desk, and it will stop being a thing I need to do something about; it will transform into a desk object, like the cup of pens or my computer speakers. Once this transformation occurs, the book can remain there indefinitely until the day comes when I realize I need to write about a book, but do not feel like writing about any of the books that have not yet turned into desk objects. This is when I will rediscover a book and bring it back from the land of objects into the land of books. This is what happened with the December issue of Bijutsu Techo, a special issue of the art magazine devoted to “untangling the expression of ‘relationality’”. Continue reading

Henshin: Ken Niimura

Henshin_Ken Niimura

First things first: I know Ken. We hang out when I am in Japan. He is a solid guy with a penchant for champagne. He also has these great yellow glasses that I am very jealous of and wish I could pull off. So I cannot claim total impartiality when it comes to his work. Just like discovering a particular creator is an asshat can put you off their work, knowing that an artist is actually a pretty great person who deserves all the successes they are given in life can color your reading of a text. That said, Henshin is pretty great and I feel confident I would say that even if I didn’t know Ken was also pretty great.

And lucky you, monolingual readers! This one has been translated into English and published by Image, so you can actually read it instead of fondly daydreaming about what it would be like to read it, as I’m sure you do with so many of the books I talk about here. (Like last week’s offering. Which someone should seriously publish in English. Come on, publishers!) And in English, you get the larger page size, so more space to enjoy Ken’s delightful manga-plus comic art style! As an aside, it’s interesting to see a manga brought over to North America as an American-style comic rather than as a manga in the usual sense of the word on this side of the ocean. And for this book, that feels like the better choice. Fans of “manga” and all the baggage that word carries with it will probably not be so interested in this collection of short stories. It definitely belongs of the graphic novel side of the fence, even as it uses manga devices to tell those stories. Continue reading